Lizardbreath, meet Charter Cities

by Henry on June 11, 2012

On Unfogged, Lizardbreath continues the ‘fuck me or you’re fired’ debate

The Crooked Timber discussion is pretty good, with attention to issues of abuse of power, and how sex work is fundamentally different from other work, so even if you think it should be legal, there should be more protections for sex workers. What I found interesting, though, is a simple point that’s implicit but not really highlighted in the CT conversation: that using consent as a baseline rule of thumb for determining whether someone is being wrongfully mistreated or injured in an interaction between people isn’t useful at all. … And while bringing sex into it helps drive my belief that there’s something wrong with quid pro quo harassment even where the victim consents, I don’t think there’s a specific sex-only problem with consent. Unpaid internships work just as well: in a tight labor market, you can get people who are willing to work hard and usefully without pay so that they have the experience for their resumes, and may be able to get paying work in the future. People who do this sort of unpaid work are clearly straightforwardly consenting to do it. They’re still being exploited by their employers, and an agreement to work for an employer for free, in the absence of an educational or charitable motive, is still the sort of thing that should be prohibited. Workplace safety rules? People will consent to take jobs knowing that they’re likely to get hurt—the workers’ knowledge and consent does not mean that it’s all right to leave the safety guards off the machine tools. … lack of consent can tell you there’s a problem, but the presence of consent doesn’t, by itself, give rise to any kind of presumption that an employment or other relationship is not a serious problem.

And, on email, by coincidence, Doug Henwood points me to this very interesting discussion of charter cities by David Ellerman.

One of the interesting sidelights of the charter cities and seasteading debates is how they “out” the lack of any necessary connection between liberalism and democracy. As Mallaby puts it in the FT article about Romer: “In mild professorial language, [Romer] declares that poor countries should hand control of these new cities to foreign governments, which should appoint technocratic viceroys. The better to banish politics, there must be no city elections.”
For classical liberalism, the basic necessary condition for a system of governance is consent. Consent could be to a non-democratic constitution which alienates the right of self-governance to some sovereign–which in the case of a charter city would be the technocratic viceroys, or their principals such as some well-meaning foreign governments. Consent plus free entry and exit suffice to satisfy the governance requirements of classical liberalism. Classical liberalism per se sees no moral necessity in democratic self-governance at all (with or without safeguards). Most modern libertarians are not “against” democracy; it nice if you have it (and it works well with safeguards) but it is also OK if you don’t have it but have a consent-based non-democratic governance regime with good rules and the possibility of exit.

Discuss.

{ 123 comments }

1

Wonks Anonymous 06.11.12 at 4:04 pm

LizardBreath could be arguing on a paternalist basis, that workers don’t fully understand the tradeoff they’re making. Or that the reserved army of the unemployed is driving down the return to labor (perhaps in the face of labor monopsony/oligopsony) and regulations can bring it up.
David Ellerman doesn’t merely think that voluntary unpaid internships are illegitimate, but that all wage labor involves alienation and should be replaced by worker-owned cooperatives. I recall him contrasting different lines of abolitionist though such as (I think) Frederick Douglas holding up consensual work as a post-slavery ideal while Lincoln though wage labor was only legitimate insofar as it allowed men to eventually become self-employed.
The angle I don’t see quoted is one found among some feminists who say consent is not sufficient to say an act is not rape (I recall one blogger stating a desire to abolish the concept of consent at least for certain legal purposes, so presumably folks would try to remain on their best behavior so that nobody would even want to accuse them of rape).

2

MPAVictoria 06.11.12 at 4:04 pm

“lack of consent can tell you there’s a problem, but the presence of consent doesn’t, by itself, give rise to any kind of presumption that an employment or other relationship is not a serious problem.”

Well said. People will “consent” to almost anything if the alternative is starving to death in a ditch.

3

Ken 06.11.12 at 4:15 pm

Could someone distinguish between “charter city” and “colony” for me?

4

AcademicLurker 06.11.12 at 4:15 pm

Well said. People will “consent” to almost anything if the alternative is starving to death in a ditch.

But…but…they could always go and raise vegetables for barter in Galt’s Gulch right?

5

JP Stormcrow 06.11.12 at 4:21 pm

No one makes you live in a charter city …

(To reprise an admittedly tenuously-linked idea that LB’s post immediately brought to my mind.)

6

Dan 06.11.12 at 4:23 pm

I worry about the coherence of the sort of stance that simultaneously exalts the intrinsic virtues of democracy while denigrating the value of consent and choice. If democratic forms of decision making are so great — and if they are so not merely for instrumental reasons — then it must be because the decisions that people opt for under democracy are worthy of respect, at least in the aggregate. And this respect presumably has to follow from the mere fact that these are the decisions that people opt for, not because (e.g.) they are necessarily rationally informed or whatever, because they often won’t be.

Sure, you can complain that the consent displayed by those who prefer to live in charter cities is undermined by its being chosen from a lousy set of alternatives. But isn’t this true for the set of alternatives most people face in the democratic arena? (Maybe you can inflate your notion of democracy so far that this isn’t a problem; but then the relevant choice isn’t between charter cities and democracy, suitably perfected, but between charter cities and a real-life democracy. And we know what real-life democracies look like in the sort of places where charter cities are being mooted.)

7

Salem 06.11.12 at 4:23 pm

Could someone distinguish between “charter city” and “colony” for me?

Consent, ironically enough.

8

Katherine 06.11.12 at 4:29 pm

People will consent to take jobs knowing that they’re likely to get hurt—the workers’ knowledge and consent does not mean that it’s all right to leave the safety guards off the machine tools.

Whilst I am loath to bring this conversation back round to sex work, this issue of worker’s consent has been very relevant recently in the p*rn industry. In California, a new law has been proposed requiring all participants/performers to use condoms. One the the biggest, and stupidest, arguments against the law has been that the workers themselves are against it.

There’s the sex work equivalent of leaving the safety shields off the machine tools right there.

9

Bruce Wilder 06.11.12 at 4:31 pm

I’m sorry, but is this going to be a discussion of the disbasement of the term, “liberal”? An intellectual version of the liberal fascism thesis, where liberalism hasn’t been about advancing democracy historically, but, instead, has been about advancing technocracy and domination by business corporations? (Meanwhile, the organized hypocrisy of conservative libertarianism in the service of plutocracy and (private?) authoritarianism gets a pass, of course.)

Focusing on “consent” is not going change the nature of politics, which is still going to be about authority and conflict. People are going to act strategically (in relation to whatever set of rules), in creating the rules, subverting the rules and corrupting the rulers or oppressing the ruled. And, even when someone in power does a good thing, provides a needed public good, like a road from somewhere to somewhere, other people are going to have every incentive to slander the effort. And, when the elites in power fail manifestly to take care of the public business, there will be plenty of sycophants, who will praise solemnly, the wisdom and “seriousness” of those taking the “tough” decisions.

“Consent” just doesn’t reveal much in a social world of strategic behavior. What channels strategic behavior are constraints and committments and complexity. It might help to rethink what constitutes “fair” on the level of the grand meta-bargain, which is the social contract: what distinguishes a positive-sum game from a negative-sum game. (And, no, in a note to conservative libertarians, the “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable”-ness of Pareto efficiency won’t cut it.) Exit isn’t going to redeem a meta-bargain, which doesn’t offer the possibility of positive-sum cooperation. And, models of purely horizontal handshakes are not going confront the very real benefits we derive from hierarchical organization. The question will remain, though, of where the meta-bargain takes place, where conflict is resolved, and on what terms, in a hierarchical relationship.

10

Katherine 06.11.12 at 4:35 pm

Also, when it comes to sex and consent, approaches can change depending on which model of “consent” you use. The likes of me (ie feminists) are campaigning for the concept of “enthusiastic consent” as being the benchmark, rather than the “lack of no/struggle/resistance” model that currently prevails – ie you have to actually want to do the deed, rather than just be unwilling/unable to say no.

Relevant I think to the “fuck me or you’re fired” scenario, as well as the unpaid internship (without educational or charitable motivation) scenario described above also perhaps?

11

mw 06.11.12 at 4:35 pm

People will “consent” to almost anything if the alternative is starving to death in a ditch.

But if their only alternative is starving in a ditch then *that* is the problem, not the lack of regulation. If you have a high enough level of societal wealth and a decent safety net, then people will never faced starvation as the only alternative to a dangerous job.

And do we really want to ban all statistically dangerous jobs because employees cannot resist the enticement of money, glamour, and excitement and, therefore, cannot truly, properly consent? Alpine guide? Formula-one driver? Linebacker? Should they be outlawed? After all, even with ‘best practice’ safety precautions, these jobs will remain high risk, and they are clearly not essential — society doesn’t need this work to be done by anybody.

12

mpowell 06.11.12 at 4:36 pm

I think this is an interesting parallel, but I would actually draw the comparison slightly differently than I think is being implied.

First, I think you need a much more substantive concept of consent to understand either situation. In the case of labor, people in inherently bad negotiating positions, or who are chronically misinformed are making decisions they would not like to have to make. I’m not going to flesh out the concept fully here, but I think you could imagine a definition of consent that takes into account what people would agree to if they had access to a dignified life through other means that would exclude a lot of the disagreeable cases that have been discussed. Such a definition could provide a springboard for whether people should be allowed to choose sex work if they really have other decent alternatives and genuinely don’t mind the work, enjoy it, or just prefer the greater income it provides (in this theoretical alternative reality).

Regarding charter cities, you have technical democracy, and then you have meaningful representation in the government. A democracy can be corrupt and poorly represent the interests of it’s citizens (you don’t even need to be a developing country for this to be possible), and you can pretty clearly see that some societies at a certain level of development don’t really have access to meaningful democratic institutions. It’s not really clear to me how charter cities could actually serve this purpose, but you can imagine them being a stand-in in such cases. The parallel here is that you need a more substantive concept of democracy than just getting to vote in national elections to really define a set of political institutions that have actual value compared to whatever alternatives are available. Charter cities might not pass the bar of being better than the quasi-democratic alternatives available, but I think, in principle, they could be defended if they could be shown to actually work as advertised.

13

Fred 06.11.12 at 4:45 pm

“poor countries should hand control of these new cities to foreign governments, which should appoint technocratic viceroys. The better to banish politics, there must be no city elections.”

This sounds just like the State of Michigan’s ‘Emergency Financial Manager’ law, which allows the Governor to appoint technocratics who can void contracts – i.e. labor contracts, and dispense with the previously elected representatives. Not to worry, when they’ve sold off the valuable assets at fire sales rates to the right campaign contributors they’ll be happy to hold another election.

14

David Moles 06.11.12 at 4:46 pm

@Dan — there’s nothing incoherent about it. The problem with consenting to live in a charter city (or consenting to take an unpaid internship, or consenting to take a job in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, or consenting to give up protections against harrassment in the sex workplace), and the difference between those choices and democratic choice, isn’t the lousiness of the product selection, it’s the power imbalance. You can argue that the actually existing democracies in the places the charter cities are being proposed present equally unfair choices, but while might be a good argument about the state of democracy in those places, it’s a long, long way from there to a good argument for why one ought to be able to implement a benevolent and effective technocratic dictatorship in those same places. (Even assuming you’d first answered the general case against the benevolence and effectiveness of technocracy, viz. for instance here and here.) Nor do either “choice” or “blah blah markets” answer the question of how the super-regime that’s supposed to keep charter cities honest — freedom of migration etc. — is supposed to be created, administered, and itself kept honest.

15

David Moles 06.11.12 at 4:56 pm

I have to admit, though, I am amused by the image of a whole bunch of Western libertarians moving to the new Bechtel-administered libertarian paradise of Romerville only to find themselves expropriated and living in their Land Rovers for fear of debtor’s prison, Dubai-style.

16

MPAVictoria 06.11.12 at 5:26 pm

“And do we really want to ban all statistically dangerous jobs because employees cannot resist the enticement of money, glamour, and excitement and, therefore, cannot truly, properly consent? Alpine guide? Formula-one driver? Linebacker? Should they be outlawed? After all, even with ‘best practice’ safety precautions, these jobs will remain high risk, and they are clearly not essential —society doesn’t need this work to be done by anybody.”

Yes because driving a race car and “choosing” to work in a coal mine with a poor safety record are exactly the same thing.

17

Anon. 06.11.12 at 5:30 pm

I think that any libertarian who understands public choice theory is against (representative) democracy, because they understand that democratic systems necessarily and systematically undermine both social and economic freedoms.

18

Data Tutashkhia 06.11.12 at 5:38 pm

I must say, mw’s approach (here and in the previous thread) is convincing. Provide a decent standard of living for everybody, and then let them do whatever they want. Those who are greedy enough to allow themselves to be exploited, that is their business. Maybe this is how libertarianism can be made to work.

19

MPAVictoria 06.11.12 at 5:40 pm

“that democratic systems necessarily and systematically undermine both social and economic freedoms.”

Exactly! That is why dictatoriships have long been know to be the true protectors of freedom….

20

JW Mason 06.11.12 at 5:45 pm

An intellectual version of the liberal fascism thesis, where liberalism hasn’t been about advancing democracy historically, but, instead, has been about advancing technocracy and domination by business corporations?

Just because liberalism and democracy have been associated historically doesn’t mean you can’t have anti-liberal democracy or anti-democratic liberalism. You may not have to wait for charter cities for political realization of the latter, either — just look at the efforts to create “charter nations” in Greece, Italy, etc. (Cue Davies to tell us that letting the ECB unilaterally insist on privatization of public services and labor law liberalization is no problem, since bankers only ever want what’s best for everyone.)

21

engels 06.11.12 at 5:55 pm

lack of consent can tell you there’s a problem, but the presence of consent doesn’t, by itself, give rise to any kind of presumption that an employment or other relationship is not a serious problem.

I think we’re finally getting somewhere

22

Bruce Wilder 06.11.12 at 6:35 pm

JW Mason @ 20
anti-liberal democracy or anti-democratic liberalism

I can manage to imagine an anti-liberal “democracy”, perhaps (authoritarianism legitimated by plebiscite or an apartheid regime with democracy for the in-group?), but an anti-democratic “liberalism” requires a re-definition of “liberal”. That’s why, I suppose, we have the old term, “classical liberal” and the more recent “neo-liberal” — to distinguish those views from the liberal liberalism, of pluralism, toleration, and progressive democratic reform by institution-building (constitutions and the rule of law, directed by principles of equity).

The bankers’ coup d’etat in Greece, Italy (or the U.S. — see 13 Bankers) is anti-liberal, if “liberal” is given any meaning consistent with its historical usage, to nominate not just pro-democratic political institutions, but also the insistence on policy-making in a general and/or public interest, founded in personal, human experience. A liberal’s instinct is to want to help the unemployed, not “bail out” abstractions or powerful and corrupt institutions.

I’d concede that our current crop of liberals are a singularly weak-minded lot — an easily stampeded herd, who can’t seem to wrap their brains around the idea that a failed financial system should be destroyed, not “bailed out” endlessly. Liberal stupidity, yes; liberal fascism, though, remains an oxymoron.

23

engels 06.11.12 at 7:34 pm

liberalism and democracy have been associated historically

Lions and antelopes have been associated ecologically…

24

Artful Bodger 06.11.12 at 7:34 pm

@3 Actually the concept sounds very much like the ‘treaty ports’ of the early twentieth century. Since these ‘charter cities’ are established without the aid of warships it’s all good.

25

SamChevre 06.11.12 at 7:47 pm

I can manage to imagine an anti-liberal “democracy”, perhaps but an anti-democratic “liberalism” requires a re-definition of “liberal”.

I don’t think so: for anti-liberal democracy, I offer the Jim Crow South, and for anti-democratic liberalism, the combination of courts and army that moved all the significant decisions out of the democratic system and into the courts.

26

parsimon 06.11.12 at 7:48 pm

Engels at 21: I think we’re finally getting somewhere…

I admit that was my initial reaction to LizardBreath’s thoughts: it’s good that you just figured this out! You’re right!

27

Wonks Anonymous 06.11.12 at 8:00 pm

Data Tukashkhia, I believe that is called “liberaltarianism” or “neoliberalism”. Though perhaps such types don’t normally advocate as robust a guaranteed basic income as would satisfy those to their left.
Katherine, just how enthusiastic does enthusiastic consent have to be? If a co-worker says “We should all go to that Chinese place across the street for lunch” and you say “Sure, whatever” because you don’t have any better ideas, it’s not especially enthusiastic but there’s not a sense of having your will overridden. So should the benchmark be explicit affirmation, with passive acceptance being the part of the Venn diagram removed from the mere-consent model? And going back to basic income, theoretically if you had millions of dollars you might not waste time in a 9-5 job with relatively boring coworkers but fly around the world eating at five-star restaurants everywhere, so we can say your acceptance is contingent on some very tenuous sense of deficient “positive freedom”.
Also, an argument I’ve heard about the “adult” industry is that they have extensive internal health checks and given the demand for simulated disregard for safety, laws might push production to seedier corners where the well-being of workers is less of a concern. And yes there is a “They would say that, wouldn’t they” aspect to it.
I think I also recall Paul Romer (or someone associated with him saying) that they plan to ultimately make their charter cities democratic, but believe they have to lay the foundation for that in some initial period in the absence of elections. Something similar is said after many military coups, but on the other hand recent coups have often resulted in a brief period before a handoff to elected leaders.

28

Bruce Wilder 06.11.12 at 8:17 pm

[ JWM]liberalism and democracy have been associated historically

[engels] Lions and antelopes have been associated ecologically…

Constitutional, elected parliaments, with control of taxes and appropriations, and expanded electorates, were centerpieces of the liberal agenda from the 18th century through to the present. These desiderata are key to defining liberalism; they are not mere coincident.

That’s not to deny that liberals, in practice, usually represent bourgeois interests and classes, and, in their political struggles, have often kissed up, and kicked down, displaying an ambivalence about the fortunes of the unwashed masses, and a willingness to throw them under the train of limited reform. Putting aside the realpolitik considerations, and focusing solely on conceptual issues, I think liberalism as a political philosophy has never quite reconciled itself to the uses of authority and hierarchy, or the necessity of persistent social conflict — in this, they are hardly alone. (See Plume)

29

Carl 06.11.12 at 8:25 pm

I never feel like the rubber has hit the road :/ on these discussions until the utopian handwaving has died down. Of course we can all imagine infinite-resource regimes where everyone gets all of what they want instantly and with no cost to anyone else. Moral reasoning that works backward from this sort of regulative ideal doesn’t encounter real situations quickly enough for me, I’m afraid.

If instead we work from the ground up and take seriously the facts of context, it turns out that some sex/workers are reading the system of real constraints and affordances in their environment correctly when they choose to work without a net and prefer a legal regime that enables this, since this creates distinction opportunities that can be cashed out. The relevant possibility space is not ‘life of complete dignity and autonomy’. They’re managing the trade-offs. It does them active harm in the short run to legislate around ideal scenarios not obtaining, and in the long run we’re all dead.

Similarly a charter city is appealing or unappealing in reality rather than thought experiment only in relation to real alternatives, just like loving companionate marriage only becomes a real alternative to arranged marriage and other variants of prostitution when the economy is pulling women into (relatively) independent incomes.

30

Data Tutashkhia 06.11.12 at 8:25 pm

Wonks Anonymous, I don’t really care what things are called. However, to highlight the difference: if you could start from guaranteeing a decent, by contemporary standards, minimum income (as opposed to promising it in unspecified future years that never come), along with universal medical care, free education, and all that, wouldn’t that make it so much more difficult to exploit people?

So, perhaps at that point a lot of regulations designed to prevent extreme exploitation of desperate people would become unnecessary. You know, since there aren’t any desperate people anymore.

31

bianca steele 06.11.12 at 8:36 pm

@29 and OT
Does “companionate marriage” mean a marriage of equals, freely chosen, involving friendship, or does it mean “no sex”? I read a claim somewhere that it was the latter, but IIRC it’s common to discuss e.g. “the nineteenth century rise in companionate marriage (by contrast to earlier more patriarchal forms)” as well.

32

Doctor Slack 06.11.12 at 9:03 pm

The charter cities concept does not necessarily sound like a colony. However, it sounds enough like other paternalism-driven models of interacting with / exploiting unskilled labour to be highly suspect and have plenty of ‘splaining to do. (Forgive me if this repeats anything already mentioned up thread; I scanned the thread a bit hastily.)

The overall proposal is that these unskilled workers should move to and be dependent for the necessities of life on an infrastructure build by “private firms” (likely to be subsidiaries of multinational corporations), paying rents set for the benefits of such investors and so on. In order for this arrangement to actually yield benefits for the workers in terms of safety, stability and access to health care, it would need to be a lot more heavily-regulated by whomever the “guarantor” is than the libertarian-oriented proposals would actually be willing to stomach.

Quite ironically, the charter cities proponents compare their idea to China’s Special Economic Zones to boost its credibility. Yet the Special Economic Zones were built in a context of socialist legislation and ideas that would clearly be anathema to the charter cities movement; there has been, for example, a fair bit o subsidized housing in Shenzhen, a practice the charter cities proponents categorically reject. One reason China’s SEZs have worked — well enough at any rate for the charter cities movement to want to borrow their prestige — is that they have a powerful and effective government actor backing them; another is that they represent an attempt to make room for localized experiments in legislation and democracy that have put them on the leading edge of modern Chinese society and made them genuinely more attractive places to live than the alternatives.

To the extent that this is not true — that a “charter city” would be established on the margins of a desperately poor country with limited resources, and/or where “guarantors” were weak and disorganized in practical terms, or the role of guarantor was spread out among numerous contentious foreign governments, and/or the project was subject to some of the crazier likely libertopian impulses (“Thou shalt have no subsidized housing” is already there in the proposal; “Hey! Let’s privatize the cops!” is far from implausible either)… the more any of that is true, the less likely it is that the charter city will in fact be able to deliver on the promise of better rules and a better standard of living. Then the idea begins to sound variously like a proposal for a chaotic colonial concession territory, or essentially like a larger-scale version of the 19th-century America “company town,” a model which collapsed in large part because it gave rise to horrible abuses of workers. And here’s where the insufficiency of consent comes in: there is no guarantee that people who have moved into this kind of situation will be voluntarily permitted or practically empowered to leave it again, particularly not if they wind up in debt to the company or companies running the city.

It sounds to me like those are all issues that would need to be worked out before one could really talk about what the charter city concept means for liberal-or-libertarian-or-whatever commitment to democracy.

33

Carl 06.11.12 at 9:05 pm

Bianca, my understanding is that you remember correctly. The point of the distinction is the shift from social to personal rationales for marriage. Although as my colleague whose field this is points out, if you didn’t have property and status to pass through the generations there was a lot of companionate union, if not marriage, all the way back.

34

Alex 06.11.12 at 9:33 pm

I think I also recall Paul Romer (or someone associated with him saying) that they plan to ultimately make their charter cities democratic, but believe they have to lay the foundation for that in some initial period in the absence of elections. Something similar is said after many military coups, but on the other hand recent coups have often resulted in a brief period before a handoff to elected leaders.

I think I also recall both Rousseau and Marx saying something very similar, respectively about the lawgiver and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

35

Bruce Wilder 06.11.12 at 10:06 pm

Doctor Slack: “The charter cities concept does not necessarily sound like a colony. . . “

Oh, sure it does. It sounds like a reactionary fable version of Hong Kong, because that’s what it is, a moral narrative derived from a rationalization of a basically exploitative situation, and given an imprimatur by a prestigious academic economist, who, like most economists, knows less about real economics than my barber.

The questions of how an economy secures rents, accumulates capital and distributes risk and debt, of course, are central, though the focus of Romer’s talk is on institutions. He might have a slightly better understanding of institutions than, say, Paul Bremer, but I doubt it. In the midst of the continuing GFC, complete with the breakdown of the Euro, I’m not encouraged to think our present 1st world elite technocrats have a firm grasp on how to run, let alone build, the institutional machinery, and cutting them off from democratic accountability doesn’t seem to be improving their performance.

36

engels 06.11.12 at 10:46 pm

The likes of me (ie feminists) are campaigning for the concept of “enthusiastic consent” as being the benchmark

I fear you’ve just criminalised most of over-30s middle England…

37

Picadilly Eros 06.11.12 at 11:15 pm

engels; only the parts of over-30s middle England having sex at all could be thus criminalised…

38

rea 06.11.12 at 11:27 pm

there’s something wrong with quid pro quo harassment even where the victim consents

Setting aside for the moment any concern about whether consent in those circumstances is real, giving special benefits to employees who sleep with the boss discriminates against everyone who doesn’t sleep with the boss.

39

Maggie 06.12.12 at 12:16 am

The “enthusiastic consent” benchmark can produce a lot of false positives and negatives, unnecessarily problematizing the experiences of the mild-mannered (cf. engels @30) while completely failing to interrogate the social conditioning that pushes a lot of women (especially young ones) into exagerrated displays of enthusiasm catering to male approval. And perhaps even aggravating the latter problem by cosigning society’s already-existing anxieties about the former.

40

Maggie 06.12.12 at 12:29 am

And: it just seems a great deal more “feminist” to me to work for a society where women can trust their *words* to be taken at face value, as men’s are, rather than construct yet another set of implicit behavioral expectations on which to condition their hope of being taken seriously.

41

Yarrow 06.12.12 at 3:17 am

A charter city sounds like a (multi-)company town to me. More or less a colony, but city-sized.

42

AWS 06.12.12 at 3:45 am

Most modern libertarians are not “against” democracy; it nice if you have it (and it works well with safeguards) but it is also OK if you don’t have it but have a consent-based non-democratic governance regime with good rules and the possibility of exit.

I am not sure this makes sense at all. How does one ascertain consent without some sort of vote? Or is “consent” here just “sign on the line and be sure to read the TOS” and if you don’t like something, you’re free to leave”?

43

Doctor Slack 06.12.12 at 4:21 am

Yarrow: Company-town sounds like the likeliest comparison to me, too. It’s a question of semantics whether that’s a “colony,” I suppose, but inside the likely parameters of libertarian thought it’s still an awful and already-failed idea.

Bruce Wilder: I don’t really think we disagree substantively on too much. (You know, I think a different term is needed for these would-be corporate-managers-of-everything than “technocrats,” which falsely implies their having expertise. )

44

Jim Harrison 06.12.12 at 5:07 am

I’ve heard that Walt Disney wanted to found a community in connection with Disneyland East in which each resident would be a stockholder with as many votes in the local government as he had shares. Supposedly, the corporation lawyers put an end to that dream, and Walt’s heirs were more interested in making reliable profits than in founding capitalist utopias.

45

greg 06.12.12 at 5:30 am

Pure consent and pure coercion are extremes on a spectrum. Consent and coercion are by degrees. More, there are many different dimensions of coercion and consent. Economic, personal, political, theological, others I’m sure. Libertarians, (as far as I can tell,) tend to obsess on the political, and ignore possible economic coercion. They harp on nominal freedom, and ignore the issue of effective freedom. Thus, (AFAICT,) a ‘nation’ of feudal fiefdoms is perfectly OK by them, even though almost all individuals would be property-less, and debt-enserfed, as long as they all became enserfed by ‘just’ means, ie. by ‘consent.’

See: http://anamecon.blogspot.com/2010/04/on-rights.html for an alternative view of Rights.

But even a ‘coercive’ dictatorship requires a measure of consent from its subjects. In dictatorships, (and oligarchies,) the consent of the masses is implied by their inaction. Dictatorships work because they can then concentrate their resources on a few individuals, and thus intimidate the many. (Dictatorships may also work hard to purchase their people’s affection, for instance, by the granting of rights to the people the people might not otherwise have. Cf: Nazi Germany.) When dictatorships can no longer do this, when enough of the people, by acting in concert, withdraw their consent, dictatorships fail. Witness the Arab Spring.

46

Maggie 06.12.12 at 6:50 am

How is “if you can’t afford to remove yourself and dependents from the situation entirely, we’ll take that as implied consent to anything that suits us” any different from what workers everywhere have now? Someone upthread asked where the meta-bargain takes place, superficially a deep question but with a distressingly easy and unvarying answer: at the intersection of Child’s Stomach and Boss’s Wallet. Always.

47

Maggie 06.12.12 at 6:58 am

(And lest anyone correct me that that’s where the bargains take place, but the question was about the *meta*-bargain: for the poor that’s where the meta-bargain takes place too, is the whole point. Meta-bargain collapses indistinguishably into ordinary bargain in the subjectivity of those whose cannot take their own ongoing existence as given. Social contract theory is a luxury of the well-fed.)

48

Basilisc 06.12.12 at 8:04 am

Can someone outline the libertarian argument against armed robbery to me? This isn’t snark, I seriously would like to understand how they approach it. After all, if I hold a gun to your head and demand your money, I’m not imposing force, but offering you a choice. You have two options: a) hand over some fraction (call it alpha) of the money in your wallet, or b) face the very real risk that I will send a bullet through your brain at high speed and either kill you or cause you serious physical damage.

You freely chose to risk having this choice offered to you when you walked down the street where I was waiting with a gun. Government can’t force certain interactions to take place, or not take place on a street, and when you walk down the street you implicitly consent to all kinds of unstated interactions. Someone could ask you the time, for example, or for directions, and in both cases you would give out this information without any compensation in return. So why don’t you implicitly consent to being offered the money-vs-life choice when you walk down my street? And how can a non-tyrannical government restrict that consent, for example by locking me up if I approach you with the money-vs-life offer?
I seriously think that a libertarianism that does not account for the fact that some interactions – armed robbery, sexual harrassment – are ipso facto subject to state sanction is unworkable as a social philosophy. But, as I said, I’d be interested in hearing counter-arguments.

49

Data Tutashkhia 06.12.12 at 8:24 am

Basilisc, they’ll say that an armed robbery is limiting your choices (you already have the option to stay alive without the robbery, plus you have many more options for what to do with your money). On the other hand, if you are starving in a ditch and I offer you a job at Foxconn (say, 16 hours/day at an assembly line, for $10/day), that gives you an additional option, one you didn’t have before. And that can’t be bad. That’s the logic.

50

guthrie 06.12.12 at 8:57 am

Basilisc #48 – easy. They’d say “We’re not anarcho capitalists, there’ll be a state tasked only with law and order and defence of the state and that would deal with your robber”.
Or else “The robber would know that your insurance would cover having them tracked down and tortured to death so wouldn’t bother in the first place.”

51

Katherine 06.12.12 at 11:02 am

And: it just seems a great deal more “feminist” to me to work for a society where women can trust their words to be taken at face value, as men’s are, rather than construct yet another set of implicit behavioral expectations on which to condition their hope of being taken seriously.

I’m not entirely what in my original comment suggested that I don’t think women should be able to trust that their words be taken at face value. I honestly don’t know where you’d get the impression that “feminists” (LOVE the scare quotes, by the way) don’t think this should be the case and don’t campaign for just that. You’ve heard the phrase “no means no”, I assume? Well, we’re just adding “yes means yes” to the milieu, not taking away the “no” bit.

52

chris 06.12.12 at 12:20 pm

I think that any libertarian who understands public choice theory is against (representative) democracy, because they understand that democratic systems necessarily and systematically undermine both social and economic freedoms.

I used to have the freedom to swing my fist where and how I chose, until a democratic system constrained me to stop where other people’s noses began. Damn meddling democratic systems!

53

Anon. 06.12.12 at 12:35 pm

@52

Cute.

54

SamChevre 06.12.12 at 12:38 pm

To return to the OP: How different would the status (in any respect) of someone living in a charter city be than of my Indian colleagues? (Who live in the US, but are not citizens, can’t vote, and so forth, but can go back to India.)

55

reason 06.12.12 at 12:51 pm

Basilisc #48 There is also the issue of initialisation of violence. Although you could then answer that the threat of violence is not the same as violence. But then the answer is imagine you are walking on a private road and somebody buys it. Then then construct a fence around you and refuse to let you out unless you pay them. That is surely a harder one for them (although implicit contracts could be a way out for them).

56

reason 06.12.12 at 12:57 pm

I just realised of course that my last comment may have taken us a complete circle back to one possible reality of a “charter city”.

57

reason 06.12.12 at 1:00 pm

Sam Chevre
their situation is better, because they are surrounded by citizen’s who can vote and stand up for their fellow resident’s rights. A charter city would have only such people, plus managers with effectively unlimited power of them (as long as they stay).

58

Bruce Wilder 06.12.12 at 1:33 pm

If you actually wanted a municipal government that “worked”, I think your model might be close to George Washington Plunkett’s Tammany Hall New York, or the elder Daley’s Chicago: highly organized systems for delivering social services and public goods infrastructure development. Of course, such cities extract rents from business, and horrify the goo-goos with their “corrupt” democracy . . .

59

bjk 06.12.12 at 1:49 pm

What is wrong with the Hong Kong model? I can think of a few billion people who would jump at the chance to live in Hong Kong. If your case against charter cities is Hong Kong, then you’ve already lost.

60

Maggie 06.12.12 at 2:10 pm

Katherine, the scare quotes were for your “feminism,” not feminism as such. But rock on with your sex-positive self. I’m sure the twelve year olds with “juicy” printed on the back of their hot pants will grow up to thank you for your brave counter-cultural advocacy of the sexual “yes.”

61

sc 06.12.12 at 2:25 pm

bruce:

they only “work” for certain people. in addition to the rents extracted from businesses in the form of bribes, the old-timey ward-based system of delivering essential services in Daley Chicago meant that the alderman’s office held far too much sway.

oh, your street needs plowed? did you vote for the alderman in the election? gee, that’s too bad. it’ll warm up eventually.

your trash isn’t getting collected? huh, that’s interesting. didn’t you campaign for the other guy? why don’t you call him and see if he can find you a garbage truck.

62

William Timberman 06.12.12 at 2:26 pm

Bruce, doesn’t Boss Tweed and Richard Daley’s implicit argument go something like this: Because it’s easier to come by than noble birth, and more effective than a single, measly vote, money is the most efficient — and most underrated — tool of democracy? (I seem to remember that Boss Tweed was quite explicit about the benefits of bribery, although he put it somewhat less delicately than I’ve tried to here.)

63

tomslee 06.12.12 at 2:34 pm

Off topic: I have never heard of Boss Tweed before this morning, but I read about him in an article in The Nation about Amazon.com a couple of hours ago, and now here he is again. Plus, that Nation article quotes Kieran Healy. Weird.

64

bianca steele 06.12.12 at 2:36 pm

Well, that’s new: reading women out of feminism. On the Internet, of all places.

65

Maggie 06.12.12 at 2:37 pm

Oh, and what in your original comment suggested that you don’t think women’s *words* should be taken seriously is that you propose shifting focus from the still less than half-won struggle to get them taken seriously in favor of nebulous stuff about “enthusiasm.” It’s formally identical to an age-old script: “your lips are saying ____, but your eyes are saying ______.” It’s reactionary to the point of shamelessness. “Yes means yes” is a marketing fail of the first order if it really intends what you say it does, and pure demonic genius if not. Anybody who knows the first thing about young people can see that for the vast majority, the takeaway from seeing “no means no” replaced with “yes means yes” will simply be “we’re supposed to start saying yes now.”

66

ajay 06.12.12 at 2:38 pm

Maggie, maybe just try to troll one thread at a time?

67

Maggie 06.12.12 at 2:41 pm

Wait, we’re supposed to pretend all women are feminists? OK, that helps explain why niqab is off-limits to criticism. Thanks. *taking notes*

68

Maggie 06.12.12 at 2:42 pm

ajay, maybe try having the stones to say something with actual content?

69

Dan 06.12.12 at 2:43 pm

Can someone outline the libertarian argument against armed robbery to me? This isn’t snark, I seriously would like to understand how they approach it.

I guess I have to re-think my assumption that the libertarian-bashers on here actually have a basic understanding of the view they’re attacking.

OK, done with the snark: the quick answer — on a rights-based approach (I don’t presume to speak for other versions of libertarianism) — is that you have a right of self-ownership that entails that, in normal circumstances, you can not permissibly be shot in the head. This right extends to a right not to be subject to sincere threats to be shot in the head. (“Normal circumstances” here just means that (a) you’re not yourself violating rights, and (b) you haven’t consented to be shot in the head.)

If indeed you did implicitly consent to be threatened/shot, that would be fine. But there is no reasonable conception of implicit consent on which walking down the street demonstrates one’s consent to be threatened/shot. You don’t need to implicitly consent to someone asking you directions, because someone asking you directions doesn’t violate any of your rights. Does that help?

70

bianca steele 06.12.12 at 2:44 pm

ajay, no, I want to find out more about how opposing a reactionary form is itself reactionary, and I bet Maggie is just the person to explain it.

71

ajay 06.12.12 at 2:48 pm

70: are you sure? I was rather hoping that she was going to hop over to the other thread and explain how I was a Black Panther from Shakesville or something (not quite sure I followed that bit but it was sounding jolly promising).

72

Maggie 06.12.12 at 2:49 pm

That’s a use of “reactionary” that correlates uncomfortably well with the question of whether sex actually ends up happening or not. I honestly thought this had been resolved by 1971 or so.

73

Maggie 06.12.12 at 2:58 pm

ajay, I’m surely more confused by you than you are by me. The Shakesville accusation was a bit of an educated guess – I know so very little about you, since you’ve brought me nothing but generic all-purpose gatekeeping snark.

74

ajay 06.12.12 at 3:02 pm

I resent that. I (and others) have been delivering highly specific, personally tailored snark.

75

Barry Freed 06.12.12 at 3:05 pm

tomslee: That’s great. Some call it the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. [I hope that link works]. Having heard of the Baader-Meinhof Group a long time ago, I prefer the “plate o’ shrimp” reference from Repo Man.

Don’t hold back, Maggie, bring your A game and I’m sure ajay will bring his.

76

Maggie 06.12.12 at 3:06 pm

Barry, I have been. The scary thing is I suspect ajay has too.

77

ajay 06.12.12 at 3:09 pm

You’re only saying that because I’m black, Maggie.

78

Pascal Leduc 06.12.12 at 3:30 pm

Maggie, I have to say I don’t understand. The whole point of “enthusiastic consent” is to raise the bar for guys to find out if the women they are with actually wants to have sex with them. The whole point is to not make it acceptable to think that someone wants to have sex with you because of what they wear or how nice their eyes are. I don’t understand how this system could generate lots of false positives, short of lots of women saying they want to have sex with the guy when they don’t actually want to, though they would still be in trouble in the old system. As for increased false negatives, well that’s not really a problem if you ask me, you can always try again at a later date.

Really I guess the only victims are women who are into having sex with guys who aren’t sure if she really wants to, “baby, do me like your worried I might hate you in the morning”.

79

Salient 06.12.12 at 3:36 pm

“Yes means yes” is googleable readily enough, but actually, Maggie has a reasonable technical point here. The yes-means-yes idea itself is completely sound, but maybe the phrase itself is too flip? If we got to rewind time and help re-choose the phrase I’d suggest it should be something more like, “only YES means yes.” With the capital letters and everything, since it’s the inflection that carries the weight of the statement. Maybe even an exclamation point: “only YES! means yes.”

80

Data Tutashkhia 06.12.12 at 3:37 pm

The whole point of “enthusiastic consent” is to raise the bar for guys to find out if the women they are with actually wants to have sex with them.

I believe a note from psychoanalyst should be required. No less than 5 sessions, to be sure.

81

bob mcmanus 06.12.12 at 3:38 pm

70:ajay, no, I want to find out more about how opposing a reactionary form is itself reactionary

Oh, arguing with Limbaugh and Boehner (or Frum) does not exactly advance the conversation, does it. For more advanced students, a small sample:

On Zizek’s supposed conservatism …Kotsko’s place

This is partly Zizek’s fault, insofar as he has chosen an indirect method of making his points in the political arena. Yet it frustrates me when academics make this critique, because he’s given us the key! It’s basically the “Laibach strategy” — mime the dominant ideology to such an extreme that you reach its internal contradictions and it begins to break down. For instance, his supposed endorsement of right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment: already in Tarrying With the Negative (widely regarded as his “best” book!), he had said that ethnic conflicts covered over the contradictions of capital, and liberals opportunistically indulge them as a kind of “release valve” for those economic pressures.

82

bob mcmanus 06.12.12 at 3:45 pm

I thought this thread was about charter cities and hegemony.

I want to find out more about how opposing a reactionary form is itself reactionary

No, wait let’s discuss the Divine Right of Kings! No, the Arian Heresy! Phlogiston! These old ideas must be vigorously opposed in order to progress!

Or austerity economics and The Treasury View. Or Communist Calculation. We’ll spend thousands of pages and man-hours combating zombie ideologies and kill them once and for all.

83

Salient 06.12.12 at 4:02 pm

Okay, equivocating a lack of duress with obtaining “a note from psychoanalyst … No less than 5 sessions” just creeps me the fuck out. Because of the implication.

84

ajay 06.12.12 at 4:06 pm

83: I think the (humorous and self-deprecating) implication was that he automatically suspects that anyone who wants to sleep with him must be completely off her head.

85

Data Tutashkhia 06.12.12 at 4:17 pm

So, how should the lack of duress be demonstrated in the hypothetical situation from a comedy show? The requirement to obtain a note from psychoanalyst has an advantage of actually working, in that situation. What is your suggestion?

86

ajay 06.12.12 at 4:29 pm

No, he was serious.

87

Barry Freed 06.12.12 at 4:40 pm

In commemoration of a day some four days hence I move that the concept of “enthusiastic consent” be hereafter known colloquially as “giving the (full) Molly Bloom.”
All those in favor, you know what to say.

88

Salient 06.12.12 at 4:42 pm

…oh. I really should’ve caught on to that, sorry.

Anyway, uh, going back around to the OP: it feels to me like, in a pretty wide variety of circumstances, it makes more sense to define and selectively legitimate coercion rather than consent.

After all, what are we really afraid of? We fear getting coerced (subjected to duress, incarceration, etc), and we fear suffering we can’t escape (being trapped in desperate circumstances). If we go about defining just governance by addressing limitations on coercion and the alleviation or prevention of various forms of suffering, can’t we mostly avoid bringing up the notion of consent? And even the notion of liberty?

The important consent stuff could get swept up implicitly in the limitations on coercion, and the important liberty stuff could get swept up in the limitations on suffering. (It took me a while to realize this is the right assignment. I kept wanting to assign liberty to coercion, because, common sense, right? Not really, the cases where liberty is impeded — e.g. trapped poor and indebted forever — are problems because of the suffering involved, and more importantly, they aren’t directly the result of isolated acts of coercion. Alleviation of suffering would have to address comfort as well as liberty, and would have to encompass more than social mobility and welfare.)

Along a different track, what happens if we categorically replace all instances of ‘consent’ with ‘enthusiastic consent’? The most immediate problem that springs to mind is the existence of petulant assholes among us, people who refuse to enthusiastically consent to something reasonable, like walking all the way across a crosswalk instead of loitering in the road in the way of cars whose turn it is to go.

Of course, at least a third of the U.S. voting population do not enthusiastically consent to their current President, and that’s been true for decades. Even if we replace enthusiastically with some weaker adjective, this remains a problem. We actually expect people to put up with a hell of a lot of coercion, or at least, a hell of a lot of meaningful and imposing constraints. People don’t actually get all that much, relative to what they have to accept. (And it’s not directly proportional to the size of the population.) I feel like sweeping all of this up under ‘consent’ just hides it and lets us comfortably believe that we’re not proposing that grand an imposition on each individual, and that protest from those individuals would be a priori unreasonable. I guess maybe the goal is to construct a model of society in which protest from any of its constituent individuals would be a priori unreasonable. That seems like a pretty awful and misguided goal, though.

89

Scott Martens 06.12.12 at 5:01 pm

The focus on consent to the exclusion of everything else really is the Achilles heel of classical liberalism/modern libertarianism. It’s not that lack of consent is good, it’s that when unequal agents consent to something, that consent is far from enough to make it okay. We don’t allow children to consent to debt, or to sexual relationships, or to countless other things because of the fundamental inequality in power between children and adults. Society (and yeah, if you’re a cynic, read “the state”) has a legitimate interest in the regulation of relationships characterized by the fundamentally unequal agency of the participants, regardless of consent. That actually setting out to regulate those relationships can be complicated, difficult, messy and not very efficient doesn’t change the legitimacy of the public interest.

A contract for sexual services between a prostitute and john is less fundamentally unequal than one between an employer and employee. There are certainly cases where that’s not true – sex workers are certainly pressured and often lacking in adequate agency, but one can certainly imagine conditions where the power balance is comparable to that between a 7-11 manager and a buyer of soda on a hot day. But I can’t think of a lot of contexts where the same could be said of an employer/employee relationship. I think that provides an adequate grounds for finding “fuck me or you’re fired” repugnant to a legitimate public interest in a way that sex work per se is not.

90

Salient 06.12.12 at 5:01 pm

The requirement to obtain a note from psychoanalyst has an advantage of actually working, in that situation.

Not really, but this follow-up was revealing. I think I can see where either you are misguided or you are being an obtuse asshole (hard to say which at this point, though I’m not feeling very hopeful).

Ok, anyway. To clarify: The “only yes means yes” principle is not meant to be a legal definition of sexual assault. It is (only) meant to be a principle of behavior that one ought to live up to, in order to be a moral person. As a moral principle, it’s not subject to standards of proof, or reasonable doubt, or whatever legalese — we’re not prosecuting people for failing to meet this standard, we’re just proposing that this standard represents what a person ought to do (or “ought to try to do to the best of their ability” if you prefer) in order to be a ‘good’ person.

It’s about as fuzzy as most moral principles. Like most moral principles, you could probably come up with various wild and weird specific cases where the principle leads to wrongdoing. And, like most moral principles, you could probably describe various ordinary circumstances in a fiendishly clever way so that a self-evidently acceptable case seems to violate the principle. (Here’s a quite ordinary example: my life partner propositioned me, and when I declined, offered to do something I liked in return, at which point I accepted. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, per se, but I felt comfortable and didn’t mind in the slightest. I personally prefer the idea of ‘comfortable consent’ as a middle ground between technical consent and enthusiastic consent, but that idea probably only applies to longer-term relationships.)

What is your suggestion?

Since a comprehensive suggestion would just restate the principle, let me give a couple specific examples. Don’t push people to say yes to sex with you. Don’t trick people into having sex with you. Don’t propose sex when someone is too intoxicated or drugged to think clearly (unless you’ve discussed it in advance when the person was reasonably sober and clear-headed, or something like that). Don’t beg people to have sex with you. Don’t have sex with someone who hasn’t expressed clear interest in having sex with you while clear-minded. Stuff like that.

91

bianca steele 06.12.12 at 5:06 pm

bob, I mean the “opposing people who think P, because they’re wrong about P and their belief that P makes them hurt people who don’t think P, just buys into the whole idea that P is true” thing, which is what Maggie said–though it may not be what she actually meant. If Maggie and Salient want to agree, that’s fine with me, and even better if they will actually explain what they are talking about, because I’d really like to know how they come up with that. Maybe they are reading too much into the little adjective “enthusiastic,” which really shouldn’t be that difficult, but who knows? But I shouldn’t spoil their fun.

92

mpowell 06.12.12 at 5:07 pm

Contra Maggie, I think the yes means yes meme is probably a good one for the feminist movement to pick up. I don’t really see the pathway where it will lead to more 12 year olds wearing juicy sweatpants since society has always been pretty much hell-bent on sexualizing women’s bodies regardless of what concessions feminists have gotten on the concept of consent.

But I think it is a dumb idea to extend to other agreements. The problem with rape is not that women have a bad negotiating position. The problem is that some men have the bad habit of ignoring what the women have actually agreed to. This is different from economic agreements were workers legitimately agree to coercive contracts because they don’t have better alternatives. Enthusiasm does not do a very good job of excluding coercion for these cases. There are some rapes that happen this way, but I think there are fewer of them these days or at least they are not the biggest part of the problem that I am aware of, noting that coercing someone into ‘agreement’ through physical force is not the kind of coercion we are talking about.

93

JW Mason 06.12.12 at 5:11 pm

I thought Maggie’s original point was similar to LizardBreath’s — that consent is a necessary but not sufficient condition to establish that an interaction is not exploitative or otherwise morally unacceptable. If objective constraints compel people to accept what is, nonetheless, a degrading or harmful arrangement, then raising the bar for consent just forces the person to put on a show of enthusiasm for being harmed or degraded.

We have minimum wage, workplace safety, working hours, etc. laws that simply forbid certain kinds of employment relationships, even given fully informed consent. We recognize — hopefully — that low-wage workers are better off because of minimum wage laws, even though they individually would choose to accept below-minimum wage jobs. This isn’t in any way paternalistic or a suggestion that low-wage workers don’t know their self interest, it’s just because the bargaining power of workers is greater when wages are set collectively than when they are set in one on one negotiations with an employer.

In the same way, universal rules prohibiting certain kinds of sexual relationships may be better for everyone — especially but not only the people in the weaker position in those relationships — than a requirement of consent, even enthusiastic consent. I don’t think anyone would find the original case acceptable if we changed it to “Enthusiastically consent to fuck me or you’re fired,” would they? Because the self-interest of the individual in the subordinate position is in giving the person in the dominant position what they want, the only way to limit the dominant’ person’s demands is to simply take some options off the table — the subordinate can’t consent to being fucked because HR prohibits it.

An individual poor person might want to sell a kidney. But would poor people in the aggregate be better of in a society where kidney sales were routine? or would they be just as poor, with fewer kidneys?

Go back to the workplace safety example. Suppose we said, well, the only problem here is that people may not realize how dangerous the job is. So we have make them prove they really want to work at this dangerous job, by signing a long form indemnifying the employer and also by doing a month long unpaid “apprenticeship,” to show they really are willing to do the work. Nobody would think that was progress for labor rights, I hope.

Maggie is suggesting , I think, that “yes means yes” amounts to a similar approach to coercive sex.

94

JW Mason 06.12.12 at 5:14 pm

what happens if we categorically replace all instances of ‘consent’ with ‘enthusiastic consent’? The most immediate problem that springs to mind is the existence of petulant assholes among us, people who refuse to enthusiastically consent to something reasonable

Well, that’s one possible problem. The other possible problem, tho, is that all the people who’ve always had to eat shit, now have to eat shit and say they like it.

95

JW Mason 06.12.12 at 5:16 pm

The problem with rape is not that women have a bad negotiating position. The problem is that some men have the bad habit of ignoring what the women have actually agreed to.

This is the crux of the disagreement. In my opinion, both are problems. “Yes means yes” addresses the second but not the first.

96

bianca steele 06.12.12 at 5:24 pm

JW Mason:
The thing is that the situation in which consent becomes relevant w/r/t sex is pretty much always one-on-one negotiation and on the spur of the moment (possible cultural differences aside, where going alone to a man’s room may or may not be considered implicit “consent” all by itself, for example), where in the general employment case things are generally agreed to in advance. That’s why I suggested quid pro quo sex is more like asking an employee to violate a regulation, just this once, than like asking an employee to regularly get the highest price possible regardless of how much the thing sold is worth (which someone might not consent to, and not take the job, or might not enthusiastically consent to, and do it anyway, but which isn’t really a surprise to anybody).

97

Barry Freed 06.12.12 at 5:30 pm

Well, that’s one possible problem. The other possible problem, tho, is that all the people who’ve always had to eat shit, now have to eat shit and say they like it.

This.

98

William Timberman 06.12.12 at 5:34 pm

Except at the extremes, defining what is coercion in matters of sex and what isn’t seems to be an eye-of-the-beholder matter. Don’t all courtship rituals in fact include a recognized need for strenuous, if not to say desperate attempts at persuasion? And aren’t the reasons well-known? On the one hand, we’re plagued at times by needs our rational selves are never fully in control of, and on the other, we fear surrendering even a small part of our self-determination to someone who, for all practical purposes, was a stranger before he or she became a suitor.

A chancy game, this, and if you don’t enjoy playing it, it’s easy enough to feel that you’re being assaulted rather than courted. In the culture I was born into, having a Molly Bloom come into your life precisely when you need one is a blessing that most heterosexual men (I can’t speak for gay men or women) experience rarely, if at all. Sometimes, I would say, we have to risk being something of an asshole. Should garden variety assholery become a matter of law, we’re very likely to become confused and discouraged.

No doubt some women, maybe even a majority, think that we damned well ought to be discouraged, given the disgustingly absurd level of our general presumption. In the light of experiences that feminists have shared with me, I can’t really argue the point, but I do wonder what the rules will wind up being when — and if — our differences are fully worked through.

99

Salient 06.12.12 at 5:38 pm

In the same way, universal rules prohibiting certain kinds of sexual relationships may be better for everyone—especially but not only the people in the weaker position in those relationships—than a requirement of consent, even enthusiastic consent.

This is the same conflation of moral principles with legal principles or social principles. When defining a moral principle — “I should [...]” — you can assume the ‘I’ is acting in good faith, trying to be a good person and do the right thing. You can’t define a moral principle in terms of a universal rule prohibiting relationships between individuals, because a moral principle outlines what you have decided you should do, or how you have decided to act, react, or think. It’s not about how people should interact (no moral principle can be about how people should interact, by definition).

You can argue that everyone ought to adopt a particular moral principle, but that’s a second-order argument. Such an argument is advocating a social principle: you might argue “everyone should acknowledge and agree that moral principle X is a necessary part of good person” or you might argue “everyone should abide by moral principal X” or even “everyone should be forced to abide by moral principle X or be subject to criminal sanction” or whatever. But that’s completely independent of the statement of the moral principle itself. That statement is necessarily entirely individual, a limitation on your own behavior that you have accepted because you think a good person must accept that limitation and you want to be a good person. “I don’t engage in sex unless they feel confident the other person is not only willing, but also enthusiastic” (a quite excellent rule to follow in good faith) is very different from “people should obtain enthusiastic consent before engaging in sex” (horrible proposal for a rule because it’s ripe for bad-faith exploitation). And the latter is quite different from “anyone who wants to be a good person should adopt the rule I don’t engage in sex unless they feel confident the other person is not only willing, but also enthusiastic and follow it in good faith.”

100

Salient 06.12.12 at 5:46 pm

…although come to think of it your point is actually that I was the one proposing the conflation mistake, which is correct. The answer to my “what happens” question is “an awful lot of awful things” — we shouldn’t replace ‘consent’ with ‘enthusiastic consent’ in statements about how individuals should be required to act in society, for exactly the reasons you stated — it’ll just put people who have needed to pretend to consent in a position where they need to pretend to enthusiastically consent. More generally, social principles need presume the relatively powerful will be acting in bad faith in their relations with the relatively powerless.

…well, I’m glad at least I asked about the swap as a question, instead of proposing it outright. It did seem like a naive and dangerous fix.

101

Salient 06.12.12 at 5:54 pm

I guess that presumption of bad faith means we can’t build social principles from moral principles. We have to look at the desired outcome that the moral principle would produce if everyone followed it, and then design a coercive regime that produces the desired outcome by enforcement. It’s a bit embarrassing to catch on to this belatedly, since it’s so freaking obvious. You can’t convert a moral principle into a law, because “accepted in good faith by its practitioners” and “subject to enforcement” are incompatible assumptions.

102

Bruce Baugh 06.12.12 at 6:06 pm

William Timberman: Without trying to gloss over any of the other complications, I do think that there’s a fairly clear line between “fuck me or you’re fired” and anything that might sensibly be called courtship. The boss saying “fuck me or you’re fired” is specifically choosing to use power to get the sex he wants without regard for the subordinate’s wishes or feelings at all – it’s about abolishing courtship thanks to the ability to coerce compliance.

103

hartal 06.12.12 at 6:19 pm

Haven’t followed this exchange. Just a note: There are justifications for the violation of the (sacrosanct) principle of free contract in Robert Franks book on Darwinian competition and Kaushik Basu’s Beyond the Invisible Hand.

104

Pascal Leduc 06.12.12 at 6:28 pm

William Timberman, the problem with that argument is that its based on a women as gate keeper model. Furthermore, though enthusiastic consent those reduce the chance of you getting sex (false negative) it also reduces the chance of the person you have sex with getting sex they dont want. From a utilitarian standpoint you might get less happiness but you also generate less unhappiness with your not really all that interested partner, so in fact, you not getting laid would generate a net positive happiness.

Well, that’s one possible problem. The other possible problem, tho, is that all the people who’ve always had to eat shit, now have to eat shit and say they like it.

I think the issue here is the shit eating part, not the saying they like it part. Also i cant help but wonder about the association of shit eating and sex. Im not sure if its a particular kink or particularly english.

105

William Timberman 06.12.12 at 6:52 pm

No, Pascal. There may be problems with the model, but they don’t reduce to women-as-gatekeeper. Even low-status men are occasionally pursued by women for reasons known only to themselves. In such cases, the roles are reversed, which can come as quite a revelation to the men concerned. I don’t think that any of this can necessarily benefit from litigation, although rational discussion certainly has its place. Censure based on a reasoned view of what’s proper and moral can, over time, be internalized — if it engages the will.

106

bianca steele 06.12.12 at 8:05 pm

Prohibiting sex between a subordinate (woman) and superior (male) because the woman is incapable of making considered decisions due to her wishing to substitute her manager’s will for her own is one thing, and takes care of quid pro quo and abuses of power.

But what about hypothetical workplace rules where women are assigned for sexual purposes to designated non-managerial males? (And what if such sex is compulsory for the women? Can any workplace really make such kinds of sex compulsory for me? Or will they be able to pick and choose which women will be permitted to meet all their “work” obligations?)

107

bianca steele 06.12.12 at 8:06 pm

s.b. for men

108

not feeling very nymous 06.12.12 at 8:26 pm

109

Yarrow 06.12.12 at 8:52 pm

William Timberman @ 98: Don’t all courtship rituals in fact include a recognized need for strenuous, if not to say desperate attempts at persuasion?

People actually do that? Really? I mean, I can understand that it might be an appealing plot element for books and films, and I can understand life imitating art, people trying to act that way because they saw it in a movie. But wow. I knew I was weird, but I always thought it was, you know, the polyamory. And the unorthodox attitude toward orthodox sexual practices. But “desperate attempts at persuasion” are — normal?

I’ve been desperately in love, a time or two, with someone who didn’t love me back the way I wanted them to. One is among my dearest friends; one is not. And in both cases I was at least occasionally a pain in the neck. But my being a pain wasn’t an attempt at persuasion; I was just unhappy sometimes. It was a matter of figuring out how to deal with a case of mismatched feelings in a friendship.

And an all cases where I’ve become lovers with someone, either we were mutually shy, or — well, not-so-shy. And that seems more like what my friends describe too, for the courtships that become successful relationships. To assume we need “strenuous, if not to say desperate attempts at persuasion” is to assume that we can’t start from mutuality. And I think we can.

And aren’t the reasons well-known?

Er, no. Not to me!

110

William Timberman 06.12.12 at 9:13 pm

Yarrow, since I’m pretty sure we don’t come from different planets, maybe I just wasn’t as successful in my attempts at irony as I’d hoped. Anyway, on a planet where male peacocks have those fan things, and silver-backed gorillas thump their chests for no apparent reason, I’m glad to hear that starting from mutuality is as easy to manage as you say. Maybe I’m not as evolved as I ought to be, or maybe human society has just moved on. I am, after all, too old to be as much concerned about starting things as I used to be.

111

Yarrow 06.13.12 at 2:45 am

William, I really was surprised by your statement. Rereading my post I see got carried away by the rhetorical possibilities of my genuine bewilderment. For the rhetorical excess I apologize.

Trying again, a little more gently: I disagree with the idea that “all courtship rituals in fact include a recognized need for strenuous, if not to say desperate attempts at persuasion” because courtships, in my 60 years of lived experience, don’t include desperate attempts at persuasion. These include relationships that I had as a teenaged boy in which actions of mine severely damaged the mutuality with which they started; but they did start that way. You say “Sometimes … we [men] have to risk being something of an asshole.” I have at times been an asshole. I don’t believe I had to be an asshole, nor that being an asshole got me what I wanted.

112

etv13 06.13.12 at 4:48 am

I think the “enthusiastic consent” rule is probably a good one for high school and college students, and perhaps even for twenty-somethings in the early stages of a relationship, but for mature people in established relationships, it strikes me as undesirable. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for emotional subtlety, does it? Let alone if I had to be enthusiastic about sex, mr. etv13 and I would hardly ever have any. There’s a lot of space between enthusiasm and unwillingness.

113

William Timberman 06.13.12 at 5:02 am

Bruce Baugh @ 102

Sorry I missed this the first time through. I wasn’t responding to the fuck me or you’re fired situation, which I agree is all kinds of bad, for all sorts of reasons, and I certainly have nothing against involving the law to protect people from being subjected to it. I was responding to the idea that under conditions of equality, we have to either elicit enthusiastic consent or give up and go away. Given that being propositioned even in the kindest, gentlest way can be a little unnerving to some people at first, it’s not a crime to try pressing our case just a little. I’m certainly not talking about browbeating, harrassing, or threatening anyone, just noting that what feels like enthusiasm to a suitor can look awfully obnoxious to someone who doesn’t feel like being its object. This is a misunderstanding — unpleasant perhaps, but not a crime. ( A woman once told me, completely in earnest, that a wolf-whistle was a form of rape. I can understand why she thought so, but I’m certainly glad not everyone does.)

Yarrow @ 111

No, none of us have to be assholes, but the little demons inside of us aren’t always aware of that. I’m not an evolutionary psychologist, or a Freudian, but I have observed in myself and others an aggressiveness that seems necessary sometimes to overcome the dead hand of propriety. Keeping it civilized is an art, and as such, it has to be learned.

114

Katherine 06.13.12 at 11:16 am

I think the yes means yes meme is probably a good one for the feminist movement to pick up.

I haven’t read the whole thread properly yet, but I just need to respond to this. The “yes means yes” meme is not something the feminist movement needs to pick up, one we started

Please see, for a more full exposition, the book “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape” by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti.

115

Katherine 06.13.12 at 11:20 am

But rock on with your sex-positive self. I’m sure the twelve year olds with “juicy” printed on the back of their hot pants will grow up to thank you for your brave counter-cultural advocacy of the sexual “yes.”

I don’t know who you are Maggie, and you sure as hell don’t know who I am. I wouldn’t describe myself particularly as a “sex-positive feminist” as such, if that is your accusation.

And I really truly don’t see where you’d go from advocacy for a higher bar of consent for sexual intercourse to being all joyful at the idea of sexualised 12 year olds.

116

Billikin 06.13.12 at 3:55 pm

Romer: “The concept {of charter cities} allows for cross-national government partnerships that facilitate the transfer of working systems of rules to greenfield locations.”

The phrase, “working systems of rules”, strikes me as questionable. Elsewhere (sorry, I don’t have a quote) I have seen Romer claim that he and others know what rules work. Then why not, like other utopians, go and form your own community somewhere? If you really know what works, that should be no problem. Surely you could find a few thousand followers to consent to that, and consent eagerly.

OC, we can think of any society as a working system of rules, so that is a pretty low bar. But I suppose that Romer thinks that he knows what works better and has made more specific claims. Still, at best, does he have more than a set of plausible hypotheses?

117

Billikin 06.13.12 at 4:14 pm

William Timberman: “Except at the extremes, defining what is coercion in matters of sex and what isn’t seems to be an eye-of-the-beholder matter. Don’t all courtship rituals in fact include a recognized need for strenuous, if not to say desperate attempts at persuasion?”

I don’t think so. I don’t know about all courtship rituals, but a lot of them resemble aggressive displays. The purpose, however, is to attract, not to repel. That means that it must be recognized as display and ritual. The language of sexual conquest and surrender is metaphorical. The male may exhibit strength, energy, confidence, and persistence, all aspects of aggression, but it is mock aggression, display, signaling. In the end it is supplication.

Can this be confusing to the young and inexperienced? Of course.

118

Barry 06.13.12 at 5:02 pm

Bianca: “But what about hypothetical workplace rules where women are assigned for sexual purposes to designated non-managerial males? (And what if such sex is compulsory for the women? Can any workplace really make such kinds of sex compulsory for me? Or will they be able to pick and choose which women will be permitted to meet all their “work” obligations?)”

Biance, what the frikking frack f*ck?

Let me third Katherine’s statement a while back that this (multi-post) thread is creepy.

119

Barry 06.13.12 at 5:09 pm

Billikin:

“I suppose that Romer thinks that he knows what works better and has made more specific claims. Still, at best, does he have more than a set of plausible hypotheses?”

More and more, I think that the core principle of economics is authoritarianism, if not actual fascism. They lie a lot, but it always seems to come down to the peons getting creatively destroyed, while the elites get their bailouts; the peons getting libertarianed, while the elites libertarian others.

120

William Timberman 06.13.12 at 7:45 pm

Billikin @ 117

Yours is a better way of putting it, I agree — when you aren’t in a quizzical mood, anyway. And the bounds of the metaphorical definitely are confusing to the young and experienced, who unfortunately include a lot of the middle-aged. DSK springs to mind as an example of someone who, in other matters at least, is anything but unsophisticated. Makes you wonder, does it not?

121

Data Tutashkhia 06.14.12 at 7:34 pm

122

fred 06.17.12 at 2:37 pm

Are the towns in Michigan with have “special managers” defacto charter cities? Then of course they didn’t give consent so maybe it is governmental rape.

123

Harald K 06.18.12 at 10:51 am

What if we apply the rules of “enthusiastic consent” to the economic varieties of the problem? Surely all issues will go away if we demand that unpaid interns be really enthusiastic about their opportunity?

The problem of exploitation-with-consent is not that easily disposed of.

Comments on this entry are closed.