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Article > Consent & Ethics
Description :: Yes, I'm telling you not to tell me what to do. Got a problem with that?
I didn't get around to watching this week's episode of Star Trek Enterprise until this weekend. The episode was number twelve of season three, titled 'Chosen Realm'. I have to admit I was somewhat surprised, by the end of the episode, that the producers had been as bold as they had. Friends of mine disagreed, stating the episode would likely not be interpreted so broadly as I was expecting.

In this episode, a few suicide bombers from one faction of a religious war take control of Enterprise in order to use it as a 'final solution' against the heretics they've been fighting for a century (we can assume the sides are fairly evenly proportioned.) The leader of the group states that he is planning to put an end to the war and bring peace to his people by destroying as many heretics as it takes to end the conflict forever. We later learn that the conflict has been over the amount of time taken by the Makers to create 'the Chosen Realm' -- whether it was nine or ten days. The end of the episode presents the Triannon homeworld as having been devastated by the war during these peoples' absence, leaving few alive to continue the fight on either side. A few choice quotes from the religious leader include: "In the service of the Makers, all actions are blessed ones." and "There is only one [truth]." and from the hero (here Captain Archer), "As long as people like [him] dictate what's true and what isn't, all you'll ever have is war."

At least partially responsible for my interest in this episode was my discussion recently with Ensis over the "think of the children" articles. I'll provide this as background for the various issues I'd like to discuss. Ensis asserted that his response to my article was to be expected, as his position followed from the simple concept that factions will always push to assert 'their truth' throughout society -- that it was normal for him to want the entire population around him to be in agreement over morals and ethics and so forth, at least ideally, and that therefore society had an obligation to make sure kids were raised in an environment considered 'sanitary' so as to grow up knowing right and wrong. When I asserted that our country was based on the freedom for us to do and believe as we please without bugging each other (a very vague assertion, which I'll need to work on later) the reply was "It is impossible. Liberals desire freedom. And they demand that other people be as accepting as they. Conservatives want freedom of religion but want Laws to come from their moral system." Ensis concluded that our country would fail specifically because it attempted to provide a common ground for unlike minds to cohabitate peacefully, which he believes impossible. He may be correct, no less. We later discussed divine rules ... this is something that comes up often between us. I constantly assert that, given the chance, I'd have a yelling match with God, while he replies that God really doesn't give a hoot what I think of Him. He's also likely correct -- but that in no way has changed my position. As an example of my problem with his God, I brought up the razing of the city of Ai, for which I found little or no justification, particularly in the (in my mind) brutal murder of man, woman, and child. But of course, this attack was demanded by God, and is therefore not murder! It is holy war, sanctioned and ordered by God. And how can you tell God that something he ordered is morally wrong? (It's mostly this discussion that let the quote above, about blessed actions, catch my attention. I'm not sure if it's related to the rest of this discussion.)

A comment often heard from Ensis deals with moral relativists: they shouldn't tell him not to tell them what to do, as it indicates a contradiction: they're telling him what to do (namely, not to tell them what to do) while making use of the exact freedom they would like to restrict (namely, telling other people what to do.) It's contradictory for them, and his own viewpoint (not so relativist) allows him to say so freely. It comes up quite often, and I usually leave it alone.

This is all a terribly old problem indeed. We've been fighting wars over it for millenia at least, and possibly longer. We struggle with this problem at various levels: from nations being at war to children leaving their parental home. We have found a small bit of a solution: we restrict our laws to geographical areas, and different geographical areas may have different laws as seen fit by the residents of those parts. In the case of the United States, we have a hierarchy: federal rules apply to all lands, states must respect federal laws but can create their own as well, counties must abide by state rules but may further refine the law, and so forth. Above the national level, we have international law, and the United Nations. Don't ask our president though, he seems to believe that the UN is for 'everyone else.' Considering how unlikely it is that the UN might strike us, what with our military might, he may even get away with it.

We've sub-sectioned our land and our laws under the assumption that if you, as an individual, don't like the rules of the area you're living in then you can move away to a place with different, more suitable customs. If, for example, you don't like the new city ordnance making it illegal to leave a car idling uselessly for more than fifteen minutes (as is the case where I live,) you may move to another town and idle your car there in peace, so long as the town never decides to make a similar law. So long as we have a place to go to where we can make our own rules, this idea seems fair enough, no?

There are several problems with this, obviously. We're going to run out of land, we don't always want to move away from the people we care about over slight differences of opinion, it's impractical to have countries of one person, and sometimes your ex-neighbors will come after you anyway. The entire system depends on the idea that we can be willing to leave people alone so long as they're far enough away from us, not bothering us. But that's not always good enough for us: we want everyone to be like us, to think like us, to act like us. The simple thought that somewhere, someone is doing something vile can disturb us to the point of taking action. Terrorists may bomb your country in an attempt to change your ways to match their own, or someone may declare that homosexual intercourse is illegal even between consenting adults in the privacy of their home.

At the most primitive level, we can accept to be governed by force, retreating into encampments where we must protect our freedom to do as we find pleasing. It is an unstable, unpleasant way of having our freedom, but it can work for some of us. Smaller groups may never be able to find such a place, being systematically hunted down. Today, even larger groups, entire territories may be unable to do this, as today's nations seem to have a thing against independence movements, revolutions, and civil wars. This is freedom through violence.

There is an alternative to this, one which many of us are unwilling or unable to accept. Rather that demanding that our nations enforce our most specific beliefs, demand that our nation only enforce our beliefs on the interaction between individuals of unlike minds. This is consent-based law, and it brings with it problems of its own, which we should discuss separately. In the long run, it is impossible for us to continue to believe we should assert our beliefs on others without consent -- even two people can disagree to the point of fighting, and we need at least that many to keep the species going. It's quite simply a practical matter!

I will admit that some matters will be beyond our ability to ignore in a consent-based society; there are some things like the right to walk around naked outside that may trigger a need for separate societies, societies that can be so kind as to agree not to attack each other. Because of this, I firmly believe that we should be more willing than we are today to let people go and form nations as needed. It's one thing to wish to form a single cohesive society, it's another to cause trouble by hanging on desperately to a group of people determined to live their lives in their own way.

I feel terribly silly at this point: it seems I've taken more time getting to the point than talking about the point. It seems a waste of breath. As to the episode of Star Trek Enterprise, I fear many people will believe that the episode was talking only about middle-eastern suicide bombers and Branch-Davidian-style religious sects. I think it's talking about all of us, about our obsession with forming a utopian society in which we all get along and all agree. I think it's about those of us who believe so strongly in a truth that we're willing to take freedom away from others, to quell dissent, to hide disagreements, to kill opponents. I think it's about everyone along ever political, religious, philosophical or scientific spectrum. Ultimately, it's not something we can enforce by itself. Consent-based law can only be enforced through power-based law: a nation willing to restrain itself from being overly prying will have to defend itself against nations that believe otherwise. At the same time, power is used based on the violation of consent: a nation defending itself against an aggressor is doing so because there has been a violation of its consent. There is no contradiction in this: even consent-based law respects the rights of individuals (and nations) to reject outside influences.

I find that people on the "majority" (in-power) side are less willing to do this than those on the "minority" side. It's probably natural, but I wish more people would imagine what it's like to be on the minority side, feeling oppressed by a majority happy to live with itself, but less accepting of other members of society for potentially trivial things. Remember nations that have oppressed, say, Christians because of their beliefs (determined wrong and illegal) -- wouldn't those Christians have preferred to live in a society that let them practice their faith, so long as they didn't hurt anyone? This is where the "golden rule" about treating others as you wish to be treated comes in -- if you were in the minority, wouldn't you wish the majority to not force its beliefs on you simply because it has the power and desire to do so, because it's "right"?

[I'm fully expected to need to revise this article, particularly once Ensis gets wind of it. There will be holes, clarifications, and extra articles. Particularly the use of the phrase "don't tell me what [not] to do" might be important to clarify, as it's talking about both justice, free speech, and annoyance. Yes, it's annoying to have people talking at you when you'd rather they shut up.]

[To clarify: I don't expect anyone to stop telling me what they think is right or wrong. What I hope for is a society in which we can agree not to act on those beliefs when the actions of others cause us no injury. Believe as you like, tell me about it, but stay out of my way if you can; I'll try to return the favor. This note was added along with a slight change to the title, because really, I'm not focusing on the speech issue at all.]

[An article on the importance of sex is linked to this article because it mentions what it calls the "consent-only ethic". It attempts to do two things: show that consent-only ethic is self-contradictory because proponents of this ideal would say that some crimes against consent are worse than others, and prove that enforcing marriage before sex is necessary to keep our society from devolving into a ragged bunch of rapists. I disagree with both of these assertions, but will discuss that more fully in an actual article about the problems of the consent-only ethic. This is mostly a reminder to myself to do so.]

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Owned by Unordained - Created on 01/18/2004 - Last edited on 04/08/2004

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