Freedom and Consent

by digby

From Dorothy in the comments to a previous post:

I have noticed that "right wingers" have a lot of problems with the idea of consent: they can't tell the difference between Abu Graib and a "fraternity hazing" or bondage-play, between consensual sex and rape, between "torture techniques used on trainees" and "torture techniques used on prisoners".

Does anyone know what their problem is? Has there been any research that sheds light on why they can't wrap their brains around the idea that someone who agrees to have an appendectomy isn't signing on to be disembowled by the next psychopath that comes along?

It's an interesting question and there have been some studies done on the different ways the minds of lefties and righties work. I've written a lot about consent in the context of forced pregnancy and many other subjects and it's obvious that the authoritarian right simply does not respect the concept.

They talk a lot about "choice" in the marketplace and how it's the ultimate expression of personal freedom to choose your own retirement plan or whatever. But the idea of "consent", which you would assume is the other side of that coin, is very confused in the right wing mind. It's where the absolutist rubber meets the nuanced road and I expect the logic is just too difficult.

In the abortion debate, the only people who are (sometimes) considered worthy are those who didn't consent to sex and are therefore, "innocent." This also means that if a womans consent to sex she is automatically consenting to pregnancy (and admitting to being a whore who deserves to become a parent against her will.) Yet the anti-choice crowd simultaneously believes that a woman who chooses an abortion has not really given her "consent" because she doesn't really know what she's doing and can't be held liable for that decision.

This last was made most obvious recently in the 2003 "partial birth" abortion bill which contained this provision:

(c)(1) The father, if married to the mother at the time she receives a partial-birth abortion procedure, and if the mother has not attained the age of 18 years at the time of the abortion, the maternal grandparents of the fetus, may in a civil action obtain appropriate relief, unless the pregnancy resulted from the plaintiff's criminal conduct or the plaintiff consented to the abortion.

The husband or the parents could sue a doctor who performs an abortion. But the woman, who had very obviously given her consent, is completely missing from the equation.

The Deputy Director of Intelligence said the other day that if you gave any information to a web-site, you've consented to giving up your privacy to the government. GOP hacks are saying that if a soldier consents to be tortured as part of his training it means that it can't possibly be considered torture in any other situation. They write out the "consent" part of the "advise and consent" clause and pretend that the Senate is only allowed to blather ineffectually for a little while before installing any crank the president puts up for his cabinet or a lifetime appointment to the courts or. (They will, of course, rediscover it when the Democrats are in power.)

It goes on and on, with the right picking and choosing when consent picking when consent means something and when it doesn't, always subject to their arbitrary designation. Yet the idea of "consent" is one of the bedrock foundations of democracy --- the consent of the governed. It's also a social and cultural concept that underlies the idea of (adult) personal autonomy and agency. You know, freedom, which in the cramped and self-centered right wing view is defined as your inviolate freedom to use guns, discriminate, pollute, and exploit. Any other kind of freedom, not so much.