What are the limits of consent?
For a number of reasons, I've been thinking about consent, lately.
I'd like to pose a question for general discussion. I don't have a particular point of view I want to push, and this doesn't relate to any particular situation in my own life. I'm just curious what people on this forum think about one particular wrinkle in the ethics of ethical non-monogamy.
One of the most compelling arguments for non-monogamy is the appeal to consent: all else being equal, as long as everyone involved gives their informed consent to a particular relationship configuration, that configuration is ethically acceptable, at least on its face.
Other big ideas in polyamory can be tied to this, especially honesty. If you lie to people, or withhold relevant information from them, you are undermining their ability to make reasonable decisions on their own behalf. They cannot give informed consent if they have been misinformed. Some ethicists would go so far as to say deception is really just another form of coercion, bending another person's will to your own ends.
But what if all else is not equal? What if you have reason to believe someone's ability to give informed consent is impaired in some way - and, really, since we are all at best imperfectly rational, it may be that all of us are impaired or at least limited in our ability to make reasonable choices for ourselves most of the time, anyway!
If someone is drunk, for example, you probably shouldn't take them at their word about what they choose and what they think is a good idea. In some circumstances, you may have a responsibility to protect people who are drunk from themselves, until they have a chance to sober up and come back to their senses.
Might the same thing apply with NRE? Someone besotted with the first excitement of a new relationship, drunk or high on neurochemicals, should perhaps be treated with caution. One bit of advice floating around this and other poly forums is that you really shouldn't go making life-altering decisions while under the influence of NRE, any more than you should get behind the wheel of a car when you're drunk.
So, this is what the wrinkle comes to. All else being equal, we should respect the informed choices of other adults, and they should respect our choices. But, when all else is not equal, when there may be good reason to think someone we know and care about is caught up in some specific, maybe short-term impairment of rational choice, what are our responsibilities then? Should we always defer to them, take them at their word regarding their own judgment of what's good for them? or should we challenge them, question them, even impede them in some way from making reckless choice "under the influence"?
I think age and experience would be a factor. Advising some very young vs somebody very old and experienced.
The relationship of the person who you deemed incompetent. Meaning is there some self serving angle to motivating such intervention.
I guess I'm naturally against the idea that people need help making the right decisions in a relationship. It's there journey and were all free to fuck things up . Do people fall in love and marry the next day sure .....do I think that's stupid ...yes ....but thats true freedom. Who am I to say they can't. Hey I've made plenty of mistakes ....I'm paying off a big one right now ....nre had nothing to do with it....but it still is my mistake. What if someone at the time tried to stop me . I doubt that would have ended pleasant for either of us. Hopefully I'll learn from it.
Saving people from themselves ...where does it stop ? Just NRE.
This is a very good topic and I am interested to see how the conversation goes.
Ultimately though? At the end of the day, we are autonomous individuals with the right/freedom to make bad decisions, live with the consequences, and move on (hopefully having learned something in the process).
The decisions you make under the influence of NRE may turn out fine or end in relationship catastrophe but you are unlikely to end up with a schoolbus full of dead kids. The people that you are involved with relationship-wise have the option of going along with (or not) the decisions that involve them - of letting their thoughts (and boundaries/limitations) be known (Kids are the obvious exception to this - one would hope that the other parent/family would advocate on their behalf). The drivers/passengers/pedestrians that are hit by a drunk driver had no way of knowing that they were slated to be inadvertent players in a game of "Fatal Bumper Cars" on the interstate.
"Should we challenge them?" Sure.
"Question them?" Hell, yeah.
"...even impede them in some way?" Meh, impede them how? By threatening some action on your part? - i.e. "If you do this I will leave you/won't be friends with you/won't support you." Only if you mean it - cause there is a good chance that they will be GONE. Kidnapping them and performing some sort of "intervention" until they see the light? Gross and creepy, controlling and NOT OKAY. Calling up the object of their infatuation and scaring them off with lies? WAY overstepping your bounds. Letting the object of their affection know of key elements that are being kept from them and impeding their ability to make an informed decision? that's way tougher in my mind on the ethics front. Yes, they have a right to know - but is it your place to tell them? and what effect will that have on your relationship with the one you are concerned about. Interesting shades of grey zone...
So, for me, it boils down to: I have a value system that is heavily weighted toward individualism, autonomy, and personal freedom...including the freedom to make stupid decisions and fuck up your life. If I care about someone it is my obligation (that I have taken upon myself) to point out my observations and tell them the ways that I think that this is going to go wrong. They can choose to listen and take what I have to say under consideration...or they can tell me to piss off. They make a decision, stuff happens, people deal with it...or they don't. If I watch a person make bad decision after bad decision and disregard my opinion repeatedly? I may decide that the strain of watching this happen is too much for me and I might withdraw myself from this person's life. If they are tired of hearing my opinion and don't want my input anymore they might withdraw themselves from my life...
PS. You should probably be informed, in reading this post, that I am a cynical curmudgeon and think that most people are idiots most of the time. So you should take my opinion with a grain of salt. :D I watch people make bad decisions all day long, despite my attempts - I'm actually constantly amazed at how often the consequences of those decisions turn out okay. Dammit "Being stupid SHOULD hurt"...:p
PPS. This actually ties in to a conversation that I had with Dude earlier this week - when he was dating CrazyGirl and he and I were just flirting (dangerously) he kept asking what I thought about her and whether they were "good" together. In my mind, I am thinking - "Hell no! She is a crazy, alcoholic, drama-queen and will make you miserable...you should be with ME." What I SAID was, "It doesn't matter what I think, because I am not the one that is dating her. Do YOU think she is good for you ...or do you just like getting sex on a regular basis?" He feels I should have told him what I was actually thinking, I felt that I didn't know him well enough to make the call (maybe he LIKES crazy, alcoholic, drama-queens...like it's his "thing" or something) PLUS, since I was harbouring unacknowledged feelings for him myself, it seemed that criticizing his current girlfriend under the guise of "friendship" would have been self-serving.
I think I'd draw a line somewhere between NRE and alcohol, as far as alcohol impairing consent, and NRE simply making you silly, but I'm not sure exactly why.
Perhaps it's the simple fact that our brain chemistry is ALWAYS under the influence of various waves of chemicals and temporary emotions. If we decide that we can't possibly consent to anything while we are *feeling* something, then we will never really be able to consent, period.
I might step back here and say--- I'm not sure I place as much value on consent as you do. That is, consent is vital when it comes to determining what I may do with your body, as a nonconsensual offensive touch is battery, and properly so. But when it comes to polyamory?
Just because you consent to engage in a relationship doesn't mean I won't have opinions about that relationship, or be judgmental about it. Just because you consent to your partner engaging in a relationship, that also doesn't keep me from having judgment about it.
We polyamorous types are probably not going to impose "traditional" value judgments about sex and monogamy, but that doesn't mean we are going to always withhold judgment (so long as there is consent). For example, I reject value judgments rooted in patriarchy, and I look askance at bougie sexual mores. That doesn't mean that anything goes, though, or that "consent" is some sort of free hall pass.
You write: One of the most compelling arguments for non-monogamy is the appeal to consent: all else being equal, as long as everyone involved gives their informed consent to a particular relationship configuration, that configuration is ethically acceptable, at least on its face.
I don't know. Is everyone being kind to each other, and thoughtful about the happiness of each individual involved? Is anyone under some sort of duress? Is everyone on equal financial footing? What about gender, class? Personal life goals?
A few years ago I was with a woman that challenged my ideas surrounding consent. My partner and I started dating her and all seemed well in the first flush of NRE-ness. My partner and I subscribe to only being in equal, loving, and honest relationships. This may come as a "duh!" to most of you but it took us a while to figure out those tree magic words. Anyways, this woman seemed cool but over time her "isms" came out to play. I found myself judging her and beginning to think that she was impaired enough by a variety of reasons that she needed my "help". Yikes. She would want to go and do something or engage in intimacy and it became a pseudo-shrink session to delve deep to see if she really wanted to do said activity. It was exhausting. It was also not equal, the honesty went out the window, and love gasped twice and died. I like what others have said so far in being free to fuck up and let others fuck up around us. I find I learn the most from fucking up and I find too that I can forgive myself and others after remembering my past fuck ups. So now my guide is that I take my partner(s) word at face value and do my very best to not look any deeper. Communication is the currency in my relationships not mind reading. I forget this on a regular basis. But hey, I'm free to fuck up!:D
I happen to think it truly isn't as simple as "let people fuck up and learn from their mistakes".
If we have shared responsibility-and that responsibility is a person (child or children); then I am not going to stand by and watch them fuck up in any way that will harm the shared responsibility. They WILL probably learn from it.
But-I really don't give a damn.
If they want me to respect their right to "learn from their own mistakes" without my interference-it would be a good idea for them to NOT take on joint responsibility with me involving innocent parties (like children).
Outside of that context-if a persons idiotic actions are not likely to hurt innocent parties-I don't get immerse myself in their lunacy. Let them learn from natural consequences.
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