The topic of consent is one that I am passionate about and has long had importance in my own life, but more and more I am realizing that I am not alone.. and just like me, it is not generally well understood to what extent it is present in many areas of our lives, how complex it is. It enters into relationships of all types both personal and professional when we agreement to do (or not do) certain things. In addition there is clearly a legal aspect to consent.
According to the online version of the Cambridge dictionary we find
Consent (noun) - Permission or Agreement
Consent (verb) - To agree to something, to allow something, or to give permission.
The complexity of consent:
Do not be fooled by the very short and seemingly uncomplicated definition of this word. In life things are rarely black and white, purely good or purely bad. Between the extremes of YES and NO, there is an extensive grey zone comprised of varying degrees of acceptance, and many variations of what pieces of a larger package are accepted or not.
There is more to consent then “YES” or “NO”.
Where there are people there is the natural human instinct of survival, self protection, fear, the desire to improve one’s own condition or benefit the circumstances of their loved ones, or their own tribe.
In my society there still exists the perhaps illusion of freedom, of expression of free will. We want to believe in ideologies such as self determination. We want to believe that we are not slave to our past, our circumstances. We want to make our own decisions, make our own choices in life. And yet no human is fully free - for many reasons.
In all agreements between humans the interpersonal relationship enters into play.
Where there are people there is the natural human instinct of survival, self protection, fear, the desire to improve one’s own condition or benefit the circumstances of their loved ones, of their tribe.
No person approaches an agreement from a completely altruistic or neutral standpoint.Power dynamics, manipulation, coercion will always be present to a degree.
Until we recognize this fundamental truth we can not take fully conscience steps to provide our own freely willed consent.
It starts (as always) by examining your own human instinct. What benefit do you want to get from a specific agreement? Is there any power that you bring to the negotiation table? Self introspection is not easy, but if you at least start out with this willingness to know your own position, that will likely will also help you see how the other party is equally not neutral.
This applies to professional agreements just as much as it does personal ones. You are still dealing with people. Even in the seemingly de-humanized domain of contractual or legal agreements it is always the case that if you dig deep enough you will find a human who made decisions - people who are by their own nature - humanly flawed.
When entering into an agreement, my invitation is to consciously choose to consent from within your own power, rather than consent (or obtain consent) from a place of manipulation, power, emotional influence, or blackmail.
This can be very subtle in some cases. For example when one partly lacks valid alternatives, that is a form of power dynamic the might not be blatantly visible, but it is real. If one party lacks the ability to refuse, that is not a freely obtained agreement.
There is always a cost in consent
A refusal always comes with a cost - if the cost is too high it is not effectively a true choice. True consent is colored with wanting, willingness, acceptance & empathy.
Consent & obligation
Although it is possible that true willingness to consent may exist even in the face of obligation, any sort of obligation sets up a condition where consent may not be voluntary. Obligation can take on a variety of forms. It can be a legal obligation such as a decision mandated by a court of justice.
Such cases we see when - for example - a drug addict who got in trouble with the police is mandated to attend detox and therapy sessions. Chances are, the person who is obliged to follow the mandated program is not showing up with an open heart, is not really a willing play, and results will not be optimal or there will be a high risk of relapse.
The topic of consent is very often discussed relating to sexual interactions - what exactly was consented to and whether or not there were any influences such as drugs, alcohol and age or power differences. What I really want to highlight are another few areas where consent is hugely relevant:
Consent to medical treatment is a huge gaping hole that I believe receives much to little attention.
It is a tricky area to navigate, one where the power dynamics that exist in the form of imbalances in knowledge are a huge player.
Also this an area that triggers deep emotions, instinct for survival, personal wants of all involved, respect (or lack of) the desires of the patient.
There needs to be clarifications of objectives of a proposed treatment, the alternatives, transparency around how the balance between benefits vs risk is judged, and expected long term vs short term outcomes. One very subtle way I have personally experienced is precisely this is visible in the strategy of “buying time” - taking action to protect against possible short term risk at the expense of long term overall health.
Internet / big data
This is another topic highly relevant to our current society :
How many time have you accessed a website and have been asked to consent to the terms of service before being allowed to view it? Are you really going to click on the link to read through 15 pages of small print of incomprehensible legal language just to look up something that would take you five minutes?
They say that there is not true privacy on the internet. Once you put it on the web, you no longer have full control of it. Who knows who you are? What personal information is stored on you?
Many services, products, our work, personal documents, administration procedures and more are now online and often we do not have a real ability to prevent that.
Legal consent often exists in the form of contracts pertaining to, for example, a purchase or sale, business, or employment.
Legal agreements are not changed in the same way personal ones are. Firstly there are laws that must be respected in your country, region and city. So you can not just do as you like, even if you counterparts agrees. , You usually can not break or change a contract at the snap of you fingers. Often there will be a procedure to follow and any changes, if possible will take some time to implement. Be careful of what you sign.
Consent is an on-going process potentially up for review at any time.
Consent is an ongoing topic potentially up for review at any point in any relationship or interaction, and is especially relevant to personal relationships. Even if there is a legal agreement that can not be quickly changed, your personal wants and needs are can change and any time.
Even within long standing agreements, where habits and ways have been seemingly set in stone: within the married couple, within the family or when relating to friends, people and their preferences change with time and with specific circumstances. What was ok on one occasion might not be on another. The dialogue must be on-going.
It is beneficial for all parties to feel free to speak up when a change is needed, and very helpful to ask when there is a feeling the counterpart might no longer be happy.
Note on Consent for Biohackers
By being a biohacker, you are changing the power dynamics - leveling the playing field.
You are doing this by getting educated, tracking and recording your own personal information, personal data, health results - bridging the knowledge gap with those who you interact with when they start out with a knowledge advantage.
I am referring to health and well being - your biology of course - but also your mental health.
When you are a true hacker, you do not need to resort to manipulations or get upset about things that don’t go your way, as you have also worked on your own intentions and objectives for long term outcomes. You enter into agreements that are intentional and fair. You search out win - win situations.
You are not a passenger - you are a player, your are the leader in your own life.