A discussion of consent came up on one of the lists I am on. Basically this is a philosophical argument. It hinges on mostly on the question of whether we can state simply "everyone always has a choice" or whether the world is more complex. If it is more complex, then we can’t also always say "everyone is always responsible for their own actions". This is, for some, a slipper slope. Anyway, I was asked to explain my meaning when I posted this:
"BEING in" a relationship is not always a choice, and it is not always consensual. And that doesn’t always make it bad.
This was my reply…
Sure. The concept of consent, when taken away from a dogmatic one into a practical one, is full of shades and grey. Especially when we discuss MEANINGFULL consent… consent that carries with it an ethical mandate. Consent really depends on a few things:
- Having choices
- Knowledge (to some degree) of the choices facing you
- That more than one of those choices be within your ability to accept
Those three factors combine, influence and shade how much consent is valid in any given situation.
Let’s look at the "consent" of someone who is robbing a bank because a gunman is threatening their family. (note: I am not implying this is a D/S relationship).
- They HAVE CHOICES. They can refuse, comply or actively fight.
- They HAVE KNOWLEDGE of the choices. They know what they are, and roughly what the likely outcomes are.
We might, in fact, say that they have consented after a fashion to rob that bank. They had choices and they chose to rob the bank. However, the consequences of refusal (the death of their family) may make that choice one that that person is literally unable to chose. On the other hand I myself would probably refuse and risk or even insure the death of my family. I don’t think I could bring myself to give into such a threat because I would feel it would set a precedent that would only lead to our slavery to this man.
The crucial factor there then in evaluating how meaningful their consent is in that circumstance can only be evaluated in the context of that person’s frame of mind then. We cannot judge it strictly by the situation in all shades… what one person considers an acceptable set of choices is not always what another would see – and as a result we find this…
That the number of choices a person ACTUALLY has is usually far smaller than the number of choices a person might LITERALLY have.
The abuse scenario is useful here. While almost all those in domestic abuse situations COULD physically leave a large portion of them are actually emotionally incapable of doing so. While the choice is physically available to them, it is not "thinkable". For others that choice IS thinkable, and yet they remain. In my mind they have, to some measure, consented to their own abuse.
Fully Coerced < —— > Fully Consenting
This is a continuum.
In fact we recognize this fact in the legal system. Rarely in the case of an entrapped defendant did the officer pull a gun and force them to commit a crime. Rather the court recognizes that some situations are so enticing or so fraught with implied danger that the consent of the defendant was warped past the place where they can be held fully responsible.
The idea of consent being a malleable grey area is not one many like to discuss. For one thing it has a tendency to complicate views of personal responsibility and so on. Yet it is complex.
Of course, this is not something we can measure with a scope or probe. No matter what situation we might present or discuss many among us will have different ideas of who consented – and how much they consented. Nothing I can say will convince those with a strong (for lack of a better term) faith in the absoluteness of personal responsibility – nor will their ever convince me of their view.
I was going to insert an example here, but I decided not to… it is personal to someone close to me, and I don’t wish to go into details, and given that no scenario will be conclusive – I won’t.
Suffice to say that I exerted power over her. I found the triggers and levers so that I could manipulate her emotionally and alter her worldview. If one subscribes to the idea of personalities having "states" (and I do*) I knew what it would take to flip her from one state to another. Then I used them to until I got the result I desired.
Her consent lived in the murky gray area that many domestic abuses cases may live in. It lives in the grey area at the edge of Stockholm. She had literal choices, by her actual choices are harder to pinpoint.
- Was it abusive? Not in my mind – but certainly others might term it so.
- Was it D/s? Absolutely. I Dominated the situation, and she submitted.
- Was it bad? I don’t think so… I can now stand by my reasons for doing what I did, though I certainly could have handled the consequences better**. We are strong now, and things go well.
People of good conscience and intelligence will no doubt differ on how we see this. I guess my comments come down to this…
If we allow the practical reality of fractional consent, and grey areas of manipulation – then we must acknowledge that some relationships are not completely consensual*** – even good ones.
**Reference for that relationship and the aftermath:
***Reference on non consensual submissive response: