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Old 07-18-2014, 07:36 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Originally Posted by MusicalRose View Post
I'm uncomfortable with this idea it seems you are putting forth that an individual owes society to contribute meaningfully to it rather than just not harming it. This should also be an axis of consent. Society does not own an individual.
In some of the deeper reaches of theory regarding autonomy and consent, the idea of "society" as a big anonymous other that can only ever impose on us is likely to be rejected in view of society as a community of which we are each members, and in which we are each decision makers.

I'm approaching the question of institutions and institutional change from that background.

As for what we owe to our community, let me suggest something.

There is an old distinction between "freedom of the moderns" and "freedom of the ancients".

The freedom of the moderns is freedom from interference by others. It is sometimes described as "morally thin", because it entails no obligations whatsoever on the part of the individual other than the negative obligation of abiding by laws that prevent interference with others.

The freedom of the ancients is freedom to participate in the life of the community, to vote, to hold office, to engage in deliberation about the common good, etc. It is sometimes described as "morally thick", because it does entail positive obligations toward others and toward the community, including obligations to contribute to the common good. Those obligations are legitimate and are binding on me because I have consented to being a part of the community.

I don't really hold with the degree of social conformity sometimes implied by the "thicker" versions of the freedom of the ancients - Rousseau, for one, assumed a fairly homogeneous society as the basis of a republic - but I find the freedom of the moderns entirely too thin.

And, yes, I do think I have positive obligations toward others, toward the community or "the society", maybe toward humanity as a whole. I think I have an obligation to leave this world better than I found it, by some measure, if I can, even at some cost to myself.
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Old 07-18-2014, 07:40 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Originally Posted by MusicalRose View Post
I'll need you to give a good argument for why something that deviates from the norm has the burden of proof to prove it ISN'T harmful. The burden of proof is always on the party making a positive claim.
We are making a positive claim: A model on which an individual can have committed, intimate relationships with more than one person at the same time is viable and beneficial, and will at minimum not harm others or detract from any important aspect of the common good.

Given some of the nonsense we read about on this forum, I wonder how easy it would be for us to make such a case.

[Edit: We are further claiming that the restrictions of a standing institution, monogamous marriage, either 1) ought to be changed, or 2) ought to be such that we can opt out of them if we really want to.]

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 07-18-2014 at 07:52 PM.
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Old 07-18-2014, 11:52 PM
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Belladonna Belladonna is offline
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I really enjoyed reading your disscusions. And if I may I would like to put my own two cents in on consent.

To me consent is just a word. It really has no meaning other being justifed to make someone feel better about their choices.
Giving consent means you are allowing the other person to do something but in reality shouldn't they be allowed to make their own choices and then you can deciede if you want to be with that person for said choices.

I except my partners and friends for that matter for who they are. I do not say I allow you to be this way or I consent to this.

Now if you say the term, 3 consenting adults are in a relationship. Well that very different as in they all want to be there. No one is doing something they don't want to do.

Now as far as ethics go. Ethics are very subjective. Take any business course and it will tell you that ethics are very murky. Ethics are trying to live your life without malice.
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Old 07-19-2014, 01:48 AM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Impaired Consent

Doubling back to take up some points in an other direction, from earlier:

Originally Posted by MusicalRose View Post
2) At its purest level, I believe that physical force (or the threat of it against the self or loved ones) and deception (including actions like drugging someone without their knowledge) are the only two ways to truly violate consent, although I am willing to hear more. When someone is inebriated, I am torn. People who are new to a particular altered state of consciousness or who are unaware of the impacts those altered states can have on moods or decision making probably have more claim to having their consent violated than those who regularly engage in high-risk behaviors where they are making bad decisions and continuing to pursue altered states even when they make decisions that end up harming themselves. For me, I take responsibility for all decisions I make when I am in an altered state of consciousness, when I have willingly ingested the drug or taken the action to get myself to that state, and especially when I have enough experience in that state to know what I'm getting myself into. I don't consider it the responsibility of anyone else to know better or to take care of me or to interpret my actions any differently than if I were sober. Knowing that not everyone takes this kind of responsibility for themselves, though, I tend to avoid getting physically involved with people for the first time while they are altered (either first time of us interacting physically or first time they are altered with a particular substance). After the first sober encounter and after knowing they know what they are getting themselves into with a particular substance, I try to have a sober discussion about how they'd like to be treated when they are altered.

I guess most of that response has to do with possible impairment of consent. I would like to see a society where people are raised to be responsible for the choices they make, although I can only start with myself and I can only work with the information I have. I try to be aware of where others are not taking responsibility for their decisions and I try to avoid interacting with those people, because at some point they are likely to try to make me responsible for their decisions.
Regarding mind-altering substances, this strikes me as just about right, especially when the other person is the one thus impaired. If two people agree, when sober, that they're going to get really drunk have sex, that's one thing. If they get drunk first, then "decide" to have sex, the validity of their consent is at least in question. And, of course, if one is sober and pushing for a "yes" and the other is drunk . . . well, that's called rape.

I do think past abuse and oppression can impair consent, and age and experience may be a factor, too, in figuring out when to take an expression of consent at face value.

One other thing that enters in is power imbalance. While it's true that the main reason people in positions of authority ought not to have intimate relationships with their subordinates is to avoid conflicts of interest on the part of the person in authority, but there's a flip side as well: where power is involved, consent must always be in question.

So, if a college prof has a relationship with a student - even assuming the student is of age, etc. - then one question is whether the professor can be impartial in assigning grades or making other career-defining decisions regarding that student, but another question is whether the student's apparent consent to the relationship is to be accepted at face value: it's always possible the student said yes simply because saying no did not seem to be an option, since the one asking for a yes or a no has real (if limited) power over the student.

I suppose that's part of what's involved in the corrosive effects of systems of oppression: if a young woman is raised to think she must always subordinate herself to the will of men then, even if that system is eventually removed, or at least lightened a bit, it may take some time for her to gain her full autonomy . . . if she can even do so in a single lifetime. (Or so argue some feminists ethicists whose work I've read.)

Just one more reason systems of oppression really suck.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 07-19-2014 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 07-19-2014, 02:33 PM
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MusicalRose MusicalRose is offline
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I tend to agree that society can and should be participatory, but I do not think it should be able to limit the actions of individuals unless it can be demonstrated clearly that those actions bring harm to others or to society as a whole. In this case, the claim of harm is the positive claim. It up to society to prove that harm is coming to pass. It is not up to society just to be afraid of something different and assume it is harmful and put the burden of proof on the "deviant" (how about minority) to prove that their actions aren't harmful.

I'm not necessarily making a claim that multiple relationships are viable and beneficial. They don't have to be viable and beneficial for a consenting adult to participate in them. Right now, we have a society where individuals can play video games all day every day as long as they create enough money to support themselves. Those video games aren't demonstrably beneficial to society in any clear or obvious way, and in some cases (addiction, etc.) can actually harm individuals or their families, but society does not ban video games because for the most part people are able to participate as much as they are expected in society and still enjoy this in their leisure time. I think it would be up to society to demonstrate that multiple relationships put a significant detrimental burden on the system before it would make any sense to make laws about it. The laws themselves are a burden on the system, so we need to make sure the things we are making laws about are worth the effort to create and enforce. Otherwise, the lawmaking process is burdening society and the individuals in it more than the initial action the law addresses.
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Old 07-19-2014, 07:39 PM
InfinitePossibility InfinitePossibility is offline
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Hmmm - my response has become that simple consent is not enough to make a situation ethical.

I think that for me what is needed is consent along with a clear (to me, at least) understanding of what is being consented to as well as an ability to deal with predictable negative outcomes. Plus - a reason to think that the person consenting is in a position to offer consent.

I get that my position offers no help to people who are in monogamous marriages and realise that they want to be poly. I don't think there is a way to make that situation ethical.

It is one of the reasons that I see marriage as inherently unethical. Marriage involves consenting to life long promises and I don't think that any life long promise is possible. I see the asking for and making of such promises as unethical. Which, to me, makes marriage unethical on its own. It isn't helped, IMO, by anybody who seeks to alter the detail of their promises without the wholehearted and enthusiastic agreement of their partner.
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Old 07-20-2014, 12:47 AM
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RichardInTN RichardInTN is offline
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What is consent?

Under what conditions can someone be said to give consent? (and, May their capacity to give consent be impaired in some way?)

If all parties to a given relationship give their consent to it, is that either a necessary or a sufficient condition for that particular relationship to be ethically acceptable? (Do other ethical values and ideas have any bearing and, if so, what is their importance relative to consent?)
Copied them so I wouldn't have to look back for the questions...

1> Consent is the granting of permission, but there are two kinds of grant: the willing and happy grant ("I want you to do it because I want you to!), and the reluctant and sad grant (I don't really have a choice, so I may as well... you are going to anyway). In my opinion only the willing and happy one is ethically acceptable as actual consent.

2> I believe that consent counts, in whatever way it counts, at the time given (unless the person is under-age and doesn't have the right to consent). I don't believe in the "impaired and unable to consent" idea. If you got "impaired" of your own free will, then things you consent to while "impaired" should be your responsibility. It's called "accepting responsibility for one's own actions".

3> If all parties give their consent freely and happily, then yes, I believe that is a sufficient condition to carry forward.
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Old 07-20-2014, 05:20 AM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Originally Posted by InfinitePossibility View Post
I get that my position offers no help to people who are in monogamous marriages and realise that they want to be poly. I don't think there is a way to make that situation ethical.

It is one of the reasons that I see marriage as inherently unethical. Marriage involves consenting to life long promises and I don't think that any life long promise is possible. I see the asking for and making of such promises as unethical. Which, to me, makes marriage unethical on its own. It isn't helped, IMO, by anybody who seeks to alter the detail of their promises without the wholehearted and enthusiastic agreement of their partner.
Yeah, you hit on kind of a sore spot, here, and one of the deeper, personal reasons I want to keep worrying at the idea of consent, and reasonable care, and other such ethical notions.

(I mean, aside from the fact that I teach and write about ethics all the time.)

I am really not in any hurry at all to establish other relationships outside my marriage, though I'm open to the idea, should the terms of such a relationship be really acceptable . . . and, as you might imagine, I set a pretty high ethical bar myself.

I don't think marriage as such need be unethical, as an institution, and certainly in practice it is becoming more flexible than its own advertising will let on. (I have another post brewing along those lines.)

But, still, given that our society only allows me to make binding social and legal commitments to one person at a time, any other partner I have will end up with the short end of things - there's not even the possibility she and I could have the same kinds of privileges that Vix and I now enjoy.

I suppose it's possible such a relationship could pass ethical muster, so long as everyone understood those limitations and inequalities clearly . . . but I am increasingly inclined to suppose that must be a rare thing indeed.

That's also part of the reason I start to wonder about pushing for a deeper institutional change, establishing a wider range of socially recognized and perhaps legally sanctioned models of relationship . . . like "marriage leases" of specific duration and customizable provisions, and so on.

There was something like that in the strange old novel, Ecotopia, if memory serves . . .
Edit: P.S. For what it's worth, Vix and I have agreed wholeheartedly to the modification of the meaning of our marriage. What's funny about it is that, when she proposed to me, she understood marriage in that particular context - a long story - as a limited-term, probationary kind of thing.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 07-20-2014 at 05:30 AM.
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Old 07-20-2014, 02:39 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Privacy as a Social Institution

I'd like to try out an idea about marriage and other institutions, and about the role of society in regulating individual behavior.

One assumption that may be at work in current notions of consent is that humans start out as individuals and only later develop social structures to regulate how we interact with one another. Ideally, on this view, we should only have social institutions to which everyone would, in principle, give their free consent, based on their own self-interest.

On this view, the burden of proof rests on anyone who would suggest that a social institution may legitimately limit the freedom of the individual.

The individuals-first account developed fairly recently, in historical terms. John Locke's version dates to the late seventeenth century.

The problem is that it's self-evidently a fiction, one concocted to serve the interests of a particular class: the landed gentry of England.

Consider that, in the real world, none of us begins as a self-sufficient individual. If we sprang from the womb ready for combat or for commerce, the individuals-first account might have some traction. As it is, we are utterly dependent on others, already social beings from the first.

What the work of Locke represents - which is not the same as what it says! - is an innovation in pre-existing social institutions.

So, start with the assumption that we begin as social beings, we begin with communities that already have institutions in place to regulate individual conduct.

(By the way, those institutions need not be laws. There are all kinds of social cues and sanctions, paths of least resistance, stories and fairy tales and tropes that shape human minds and channel human passions in particular ways, even without the force of law behind them.)

What has happened in the West, in part because of Locke and his successors, is that we've invented a new kind of social institution, or developed one that already existed to unprecedented prominence and scope: the private sphere.

We invented privacy, and we did it fairly recently - only in the last few hundred years.

The private sphere is a domain in which, as a matter of right and privilege, the individual has discretion over her or his own choices.

Private property is also an institution, created and sanctioned by a social process . . . also to serve the interests of those who already had a lot of property. (Locke's employer, the Earl of Shaftesbury, was very pleased with him, indeed.)

The boundary between private and public is often in contention, and people are likely to remain sharply divided over them. Everything from zoning (e.g., no porn shops near schools) to interpretation of the Second Amendment to a woman's right to make reproductive decisions for herself, including abortion.

On that last point, the most striking thing about Roe v. Wade is that it is based on a right to privacy that may be inferred from the Bill of Rights, although no such right could have been intended by those who wrote the Constitution in the first place.

For one thing, the term "privacy" - cognate with "privy" -referred only to activities involving urination and defecation since, in English culture, at least, people would seclude themselves, separate themselves from others, to carry out such functions.

With the Roe decision, the Supreme Court helped to further expand and solidify this novel institution, privacy.

Where I'm going with this is that marriage is one institution that seems to be caught at the boundary between public and private, and the tension has been pushing the institution in odd directions.

It's relatively easy to divorce, in our culture, at least on the legal side, and while people may still frown at and gossip about a particular divorce - a powerful tool of social control, the disapproving frown! - there may be a growing sense that marriage no longer has to be a life contract. It's just that we haven't revised the advertising for marriage (e.g., Disney films) or the language of the vows that are spoken.

Regulation of sexual conduct seems also to be yielding more and more to the private sphere, as adultery laws are repealed or ignored. And, again, while people may frown at or gossip about couples who do not remain sexually faithful to one another, and while in some contexts people may receive more severe sanctions, there may be in our culture a growing permissiveness about such things . . . especially among younger people, if reports I've been seeing are to be believed.

Privacy is an institution, which means that this negotiation about what is private and what is of public concern is itself a public process.

Those of us who are thinking and living unconventionally can't really ignore that process.

It isn't enough for us to say, "It's none of your business! Leave us alone!"

Either we have to make the case in public that all of this is strictly a private matter, to be left to the discretion of the individuals involved, or we have to make the case for changing public institutions that regulate intimate relationships so that they might provide protections and privileges for all partners in a complex non-monogamous configuration.

Or so it seems to me, at this moment.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 07-20-2014 at 02:45 PM.
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Old 07-20-2014, 03:00 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default A Landscape of Privacy

As a postscript to my too-long note on privacy - sorry about that - a shorter note on something that occurred to me some time ago.

The institution of privacy took a major leap forward with the invention of the tract-house suburb in the United States after WWII. Not only did a detached single-family house give a particular shape and status to the private life of a nuclear family - also a recent invention of our culture, dating back only to the nineteenth century - but it shifted more and more of the focus of daily activity to the private sphere.

To site one classic study, people stopped bowling . . . and stopped engaging in social and civic life in all sorts of other ways, too. (Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone, if you're interested.)

In the suburbs, it becomes easier to ignore the public sphere, and to think and act as though it's something foreign to us, something alien imposed on us.

Anyway, my thought has long been that swinging and some forms of polyamory really are most at home in the suburbs, where the walls of the detached homes and the fact that no one is outside walking around if they can possibly help it keep prying eyes away.

In that context and the culture it encourages, the choice of how to configure relationships becomes as much a matter of personal taste as the choice of how to arrange the furniture in the den or the choice of which new flat-screen TV to buy.

For someone living in a setting with more public space and a more robust public sphere - a small town, say, or some more tightly-knit neighborhoods in cities - that curtain of privacy might be harder to maintain.

. . . and for anyone who orients more activity toward engagement with community, at whatever level, maintaining the curtain becomes still more difficult.

People in such contexts may just be seeing more clearly what people in the suburbs merely deny: that social institutions do matter, the public sphere cannot be ignored, and negotiating the line between public and private can be very, very perilous.
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consent, ethics, hypothetical situation, institutions, problem solving, terminology

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