Periscope Depth

the art of consent

Politics is

(and I know I promised to stop talking about politics for two years; and I meant it at the time, really and seriously; but this was before the new TSA pat-down procedures hit the news; and a groundswell of heretofore silent civil libertarians suddenly discovered that Yes, The Federal Government Can Go Too Far In The Pursuit Of Extremists, which has only been news for two thousand years so I understand that some folks are late to the party; in any event, I think I’m allowed an exception anytime some indefensibly stupid federal policy makes headlines, and institutionalized sexual harassment definitely falls on that list)

often defined as “the art of the possible.” But that’s rather vague and doesn’t describe what actually goes on. In my eyes, “politics” is a series of unresolved debates on what exactly “consent” entails.

See, apparently, if a woman gets drunk at a bar while wearing a low-cut top, she has consented to have sex with a guy. Especially if she goes somewhere alone with him, and especially if she has a history of sleeping with guys in the past. Determining whether or not she consented is a legal – and therefore, a political – dilemma.

If a man goes to work for a large corporation, he consents that any idea developed on company time belongs to the company. Especially if he signed a piece of paper agreeing to that (among a dozen other things, like wages and sick time) and especially if every other company he might work for has the same policy. Determining whether or not he has redress if the company profits off his idea is a legal decision, and politics is the sphere of law.

If I drive a car, I consent to being pulled over by cops for any reason. If I subscribe to a magazine, I consent to the views of anyone that magazine has ever quoted. If I pay taxes, I consent to the bombing of Pakistan.

And, to make this little exercise relevant, if I board an airplane, I apparently consent to having my balls touched by a stranger.

You may agree with some of the above. But if you disagree with any of those assertions, find someone who agrees with them. They’ll invariably assert some version of the following: if you don’t like it, you don’t have to be there.

And it’s true. You don’t.

If I didn’t want my tax dollars to pay for the immolation of Pakistani wedding parties, I could always move to Costa Rica. If I didn’t want half-hour lunch breaks and forced overtime, I could always quit Wal-Mart. And if I didn’t want to be groped by a GS-12 federal LEO, I didn’t have to fly.

The mere fact that I’m present means I’ve consented. And once you consent to one item, you consent to every item that follows it.

Of course, not everyone agrees with that. Right now, there’s an outcry by American air travelers who’ve decided they don’t want to be treated like criminals every time they fly. They say they do not consent to being scanned and will opt out in large numbers to demonstrate it. Against this, the TSA cites opinion polls showing how many Americans support the scanners. So apparently consent is a tricky thing to figure out!

I always feel left out of these debates. I have this childish notion that “consent” means “I said yes to it.” Or, if we take qui tacet consentiret as our maxim – that “silence implies consent,” then consent means at the very least nothing I’ve given an explicit No to. I don’t think of consent as a subatomic particle. It’s not like a cat we have to herd into the bathtub. It should be pretty clear.

But apparently it isn’t. That’s why, every few years, there’s this big party where everyone goes into booths at their local public schools in order to determine what The American People have Consented To. If the People consented to most of the same things you consented to, congratulations! There’s a lot of cheering and sometimes crying. If the People didn’t consent to what you consented to, I’m sorry! Maybe next election! You gave a good try, though.

And apparently, at some point in the last twelve years, we consented to have our breasts squeezed. I’ll bet a lot of us would like that one back! But it’s too late now. We’ll have to wait for the next Consent Hunt in 2012.

I recognize that I’m being unrealistic, of course. An empire of three hundred million people couldn’t function if every decision required the consent of every citizen at every juncture. Nothing would ever get unanimous consent, and so nothing would ever be done. You’d have the Hobbesian state of nature – the law of the jungle! You’d have a wasteland where oligarchs amassed all wealth, where the strong murdered with impunity and where the weak were humiliated with bizarre rituals enforced at gunpoint.

Obviously, I prefer the status quo. I just don’t understand it. But I guess I’ve consented to it, since I’m still here.