Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The problem of "consent"

Nowadays ethics, especially those regarding the "pelvic issues", are reduced to mere matters of consent. As long as two people can consent to an action, then no one has any business telling them they cannot, ought not, or must not do that action.

This point was brought sharply home in an essay by Ms. Betsy Karasik, a "former lawyer", in the Washington Post, concerning the case of Stacey Dean Rambold, the Montana high school teacher who raped a 14 year old student who later killed herself at the tender age of 16 while the prosecution was mounting its case against Rambold.  The whole legal proceeding was so grotesque that even Dan Savage -- a career homosexual and sex advice columnist who bullied teenagers and insulted Christians as part of his anti-bullying campaign -- was incensed by the verdict and judgment that gave the offender 31 days in jail for this crime. Savage, of course, relies on "consent" to determine sexual ethics regarding any sort of activity, but for some reason he draws a line with regard to sex with minors for now.

The victim, Cherice Morales (center), flanked by her rapist Stacey Dean Rambold (right) and the "Honorable" G. Todd Baugh (left) who effectively told us that the rape of the late Miss Morales was not really worth his court's time or that of the Montana prison system.

The whole Rambold affair is grotesque of course -- not only the actual crime, but the verdict and judgment as well. The Honorable Judge Baugh all but let Rambold walk free since he considered that the late Cherice Morales was "older than her chronological age" and somehow was "as much in control of the situation" as Rambold, and therefore was presumably a consenting partner. He perhaps gave the minimum sentence that  he could get away with (15 year with 14 years 11 months suspended)  for an actual crime of this class of felony against the laws of Montana. I can't speak to the sentencing requirements or guidelines in Montana, but it seems clear from the sentence that he considered the whole case to be de minimis, something that is really too trivial and insignificant to really bother his court with.

But the grotesquerie just keeps getting more grotesque. In defense of Rambold and Baugh, Betsy Karasik argues that generally, "consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized."  Karasik thinks that society responds to such cases of high school teachers raping their pupils with "utter hysteria", and rather than prosecute perpetrators they ought to merely be "removed from their jobs and barred from teaching unless they prove that they have completed rehabilitation."  That was, essentially, the same advice given to the Catholic bishops in the 1960s and 70s by clinical psychologists who thought that predatory sex offenders could be rehabilitated and restored to their ministry working with in parishes among children. I'm not sure how little more I can say about what a failure it was for the bishops to rely on that advice.

Karasik calls it a matter of "unintended consequences" that laws against statutory rape of minors cause damage in the intensity of prosecution and requiring the victims to endure "the pressure they put on participants, the stigma, the community and media scrutiny, and the concurrent shame and guilt they generate."  Without saying so, she seems to be implying that Cherice Morales took her life because of the fallout from the crimes against her, "unintended consequences", and that the sex between her and her 49 year old teacher was perfectly natural and consensual. She knows this of course because she herself was once a 14-year-old girl, and she knew of her high school friends who had sex with teachers:
To the best of my knowledge, these situations were all consensual in every honest meaning of the word, even if society would like to embrace the fantasy that a high school student can’t consent to sex. Although some feelings probably got bruised, no one I knew was horribly damaged and certainly no one died.
For Karasik, it society's bad handling of sexual consent that causes 16 year old rape victims to kill themselves. Duh.

The real question behind 'consent'

This general question of "consent" is timely and crops up again in Mark Shea's blog on National Catholic Register.
And so we stand at the place now where it is taken for granted that consent between two (or more) people is the sacred and sole criterion for whether or not a moral act is good.  If two (or more) people wish to engage in any consensual activity, who are we to say otherwise?  It's the one and only thing that matters, because the choice of the individual is the only sacred thing there is--goes the current narrative.  Indeed, the current wisdom is that getting rid of the Judeo-Christian tradition to make room for a secular culture free from all that old mystical religious junk can only result in more freedom!

Shea rightly notes the unintended consequences of the argument from consent, when even consent goes out the window.  Yale University has now determined that "nonconsensual sex" (you know, what we used to call "rape") is not that big of a deal.  The school apparently now deals with accusations mostly by a written reprimand.  Given the "he said, she said" nature of college hookups gone sour, Yale is perhaps more interested in getting on with the well paying business of education than serving as judge and jury and executioner for its well paying clientele.

Shea's main point in this concerns the power dynamics of privilege among the ruling elite, and their children being educated at places like Yale: 
Yale is a hatchery for members of the post-Christian Ruling Class.  That class, being increasingly post-Christian, is less and less enamored of ideas like "consent" as being sacred.  That's because, apart from the influence of the Christian tradition, the normal, room temperature state of fallen man is slavery for the mass of human beings and mastery by a few. Why does an enormously powerful person who faces no consequences for doing so have to care about the consent of the defenseless human being for whom he feels an itch for "nonconsensual sex"? In such circumstances, don't expect women to fare well.  When the powerful are trained to think "What's so special about consent?" it's just a matter of time till it moves beyond "nonconsensual" imposition of their will on Yale women to non-consensual imposition of their will on the rest of us. The final apotheosis of a civilization in which consent is the sole criterion of the good will be slavery.  Because the only consent that will matter will be the consent of the slavedriver.
Yet there is perhaps a deeper point in all of this. Yale no longer sees consent as that significant;  an interesting parallel to how Judge Baugh and Betsy Karasik no longer see presumptive lack of consent as significant for statutory rape. Yet for the modern physicalist/ materialist/ atheistic modern what can "consent" even be?  Nothing more than a pattern of electrochemical activity in a brain. 

The human being is completely reducible in the modern age to a rational, self-aware, deliberate thing that is purely physical – an electrochemical life form comprised of matter and energy that operates due to, and only in conformance with, the laws of physics, chemistry, electromagnetics, thermodynamics, etc. – just material “stuff”.  There is no soul, no spirit, no metaphysical component, no common human nature (which is a metaphysical construct), no purpose, no inherent meaning or value, no "end".

We are nothing but autonomous, conscious, independent biomachines that somehow can reflect back on ourselves. But even this "consciousness" and our understanding of "mind", and judgment, and valuation, and "human dignity", and "compassion" and "right or wrong", "good or evil", and such are likewise reducible to electromagnetic patterns and biochemical processes in the brain. We can't even rely on these to tell us anything about how we ought to act.

Consent is just another physical process -- entirely governed by the laws of physics, the result of physical forces, and in theory is understandable and controllable through scientific investigation. In fact, both slavery and roofies, as well as more socially acceptable electromagnetic experiments and legal pharmaceuticals, demonstrate that the human will is controllable through physical forces. Physical forces have no ethics.

And any attempt to construct a scientific morality or ethic in the human biomachine is just another application of biochemistry and is likewise beholden to the laws of physics as an output or a response to stimuli. Chemical reactions have no morality, they just are.

In short, if "consent" is reducible in the post-Christian scientistic worldview to some pattern of electrochemical activity, then it can not serve as any sort of moral consideration for determining what is right or wrong. Chemicals can act no other way than the ways that they do. They are properly speaking amoral.

So life becomes nothing more than a battle of competing physical forces. Whichever stronger force dominates and overcomes the weaker force is all that matters.  "The victors write history" is simply taken to its logical, molecular level of material stuff inexorably governed by the laws of physics.


  1. Consent...as in consciousness...the knowing and willing participation...is the debate. There are two aspects. Statutory. Here the argument is the person is too young to make a conscious decision. And then there is incapacitation from drugs or alcohol.

    But what is sex isn't rational...or even part of the full conscious human being. We would all submit that two people can fall in love who "shouldn't" either because of racial or monetary differences, or temperament, or different heights. Yet, there there are few who do not believe that "love conquers all". I would say, you could make this argument about sex. Yes, if someone sat down and wrote out the ideal sex partner, we'll end up with a bunch girls having a laundry list that read like the season finale of The Bachelor, and a bunch of guys with a drawing of Kate Upton. In both situations, no one would be getting any. Sex in fact, like love, is often not conscious. It operates in a world of emotion, and spur of the moment decisions, but also, of attractions that go beyond the ability to be articulated, and therefore the ability to give "consent", even a on a good day, might be impossible.

  2. I see where you're going with this, John. Wouldn't it still be reducible to chemistry and therefore scientifically knowable, predictable, and malleable(theoretically, even if we are decades away from the hard sciences to understand the neural patterns that create "attraction" or "consent", etc)?

    Bear in mind I am neither advocating nor proposing this sort of mechanical anthropology, but rather looking at the scientistic view of the human person as a purely immanent cluster of material stuff that can be known and even modified through science to a desired outcome -- the human as a new GMO product. From the physicalist/ materialist perspective is there even an argument against that? Can there be? Should there be?

  3. Is being a "career homosexual" anything similar to being a career Catholic? Just curious.

  4. I don't know, Mike, you'd have to ask Michael Voris. ;)