Consent and Tea - of the Goverened

ETA: My final BB BBS topic, before I was just kicked out for 1000 years! That’s OK, I am extremely patient. It was read by many there, but over several hours commented upon by no-one. I am not going back there, so please feel free to discuss it here.

I notice that despite discussions about consent having become far more frequent and productive, it seems to be “fashionable” to address only certain kinds of consent. Is recognition of your agency and autonomy of utmost daily significance? Should we be willing to discuss transgressions of consent, and what to do about them? While in topics either about consent generally, or governance, mention of “consent of the governed” quickly results in unease.

Having had to learn “both sides” of sexual/bodily consent issues as I matured, and having always been a politico/revolutionary type, I have never seen them as being fundamentally dissimilar concepts. Both affect you on a daily basis, in all of your dealings with people, for your entire life. Both are about communication and dealing with exploitation, countering ugly power dynamics which exist to deny one’s agency and autonomy, which are used to render one a resource to be used by another whose power is recognized rather than an equal partner with a fair say. But still I witness a strong push to deny the apparent equivalence, without any effort at all made to elucidate why they may not in fact be equivalent. To me, they seem closely linked in how they work and enable each other. And even those who acknowledge some relationships between entrenched patriarchal structures in society and issues of bodily autonomy note the significance of calling attention to those structures and working to change them, while avoiding discussion of citizenship and governance themselves as consent-based issues.

Is it something more obvious to me coming at this from a direct democracy perspective? Have some people agreed that public discourse is just not ready for that discussion? It directly affects you, so what do you think is going on here?


This is really interesting, because I’m often a little surprised when adults have a hard time understanding sexual consent because it’s so implicit in every facet of our society. You wouldn’t take someone’s car without their permission, or walk into their house. If you’ve ever gone to a hospital or spoken to a lawyer, they make very great pains to make sure the consent is informed. But a lot of people don’t go to a hospital or lawyer in their adult lives, when they would be interacting with the hospital or lawyer. I think people can understand that, the concept just needs to be made explicit rather than implicit early on.

But when you think about citizenship, or where the law derives its power to act consequences (very interested to talk to my husband when he gets up about how this is discussed in law school), I truly don’t think people have made that connection. It was not well spelled out in my high school education, and even then, I don’t think it was covered well at all in the non-Advanced Placement classes. And I think that’s another situation where consent becomes implicit, because it is not woven into the curriculum explicitly. We don’t just vote to have a voice; we vote because the authority of our government rests upon it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what consent of the governed means in the event that the government does not represent the people, and when consent is abrogated. Does the government have the consent of the people when people are systemically disenfranchised? A propos of absolutely nothing, of course …


Personally, I see any instance of property or territory as being an explicit negotiation. I do not assume that every car or house is or needs to be “owned” by anyone. So maybe my need to explicitly negotiate everything, such as property any bodily contact, makes also negotiating the terms of citizenship more obvious than to some. On the one hand, this induces a lot of eye-rolling from the masses who find implicit arrangements easier - but it is simultaneously why a comcast executive or your chief of police feel that you can be safely ignored instead of dealt with personally. Implicit means that your role is taken for granted, and as such it is a power game that exists for the purpose of trading agency for convenience. Often in very pressing ways.

Exactly. That’s a discussion many seem uncomfortable to have, What is my actual ethical obligation to consent to parties I don’t trust? Why do I need to accept being taken advantage of because somebody else’s perceived “social stability” depends upon it? The push is always to go with the flow, shut up and accept it so that everybody can return to the status quo.

The few times I have gotten a response about this before has been a kind of cynical resignation that it is “mere philosophy” which makes no practical difference, I find that tends to be the refrain of people who dislike that putting a different framing upon something socially implicit means differences in action, of practice in everyday life. So changes of practice get framed as somehow essentially unreal or irrelevant. It’s essentially like saying “That doesn’t change anything, because I’m not going to do it”, which we could use to explain away any social change if the risk of discomfort was too great.



Consent is harder with power differentials, with secrecy, and with spying. But the state is a massive power differential, and engages in secrecy, and in spying. Consent is impossible as long as we are the governed.

It comes down to an “or else” anyway, so it’s not consent.

Given the … obvious … reality that there is no consent of the governed, the state can’t appeal to liberalism, and appeals to nationalism, or to a founder-myth with the idea that the current rulers are the heirs of someone who had legitimacy, to claim legitimacy.


Hmm, yeah. It’s interesting, because I think of it less in terms of “ownership” and more in terms of “legally responsible.” The abandoned house at the end of my street is unlikely to be owned, but someone is legally responsible for it (the city, I think). But that in and of itself only works if there is a legal framework by which legal responsibilities are outlined and enforced. Bringing us back to the topic at hand.

And what does it look like to not give that consent?

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In the grander societal perspective, since you mention the consent of the governed… There are a lot of guys with a lot of guns, who are more than willing to use them against their own people on a whim, who are shouting “Do this!” Most of the people surrounding us are all nodding along saying “Just do it, don’t antagonize them!” in hopes that since they’re being good sycophants, the guns won’t be pointed at them next. None of us ever negotiated a contract to accept things as they are. We’re stuck with it however it is, and someone else has the firepower. How we deal with or respond to that is our own personal…well, personality.

In terms of public discourse, there may be fewer and less lethal guns, but it may be a similar dynamic. The powerless support those in power for fear of what those in power might do to them if they didn’t, or even just to fit in with what they perceive to be the mainstream and therefore safest.


Of course, there is a degree of self-censorship and internalized oppression happening. But what I see is that this works only by discouraging organization. The people with the guns are a minority, but people obey them because they feel atomized and isolated. Framing it as that “It is them against ME” rather than “it is them against US” So there would seem to be a strong need, more than anything else, for common people to organize.

I agree that this is why maybe we don’t encounter open discussion about consent of the governed on every street corner. But what I was wondering in my OP is why talk of it is strongly discouraged in online spaces where we are already openly discussing abuse of power. For example, there has been a lot of talk criticizing police overreach, abuse of power, and efforts to establish accountability. And those are the people with guns you mentioned. Lots of criticism of racism, sexism, ethnocentricity, classism, spousal abuse, toxic workplaces, etc where power imbalances and violence are being questioned with some regularity, and some of that discussion has been productive to good effect. The fact that consent IS being discussed is what I think makes the aversion to discussing consent of the governed that much more noticable.

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Something tells me you’d like the writing (by which I mean his essays, although his novels might also be to your taste) of Steven Brust.

The way forward does not involve relying on the capitalist state—the state that exists to defend the system that gave rise to the very miseries that provide the breeding ground for fascistic elements (as for its opposite, the fight for socialism).