Widening the Bridges: Beyond Consent and Autonomy

Emmi Bevensee source

Everyone is bad at consent but it’s worth getting better anyways. No one is perfectly autonomous but it’s worth respecting agency anyways. Many of our problems are endemic to the tools we use. These are parts of the truth that often get left out. Sometimes better consent and autonomy practices look like sloppy, complicated cry-fests, not idyllic orgies amidst the fog of rebellion… but sometimes they look like that too.

Real life is way more complicated than any rigid notion of morality can contain. In both our utopian dreams and the day-to-day grind of being humans, trying to interact with other humans is hard. The individual, however unstable and limited as a concept, is the fundamental unit by which most of the ethical considerations of sentient minds must be resolved. However, the limitations of the individual are deeply meaningful and determine, not just edge cases, but also the foundation for our entire system of ethics and radicalism. The limits and contour of individualism have intimate implications for a life that we’re attempting to live with consent and respect for autonomy. This is because they both rely, to a degree, on some form of individualism to derive their meaning. Consent and autonomy are heuristics, or rules of thumb, for engaging in an ethical way in this chaotic system of life. Consent and autonomy generally point to the radical directives we want but when they fail (or are abused), they fail hard. The bottom line is, we can handle more layers than we currently do and we have to if we want to address the more complex dynamics actually inherent to the situations we face. Consent and autonomy are meaningless without an analysis that seeks to maximize interdependent freedom, but with that frame, they form parts of a truly radical approach to ethics and network building.

…Our tightly networked neural pathways manage to get primitive renderings of their complexity across the gap of space through speech (or sign) or wires and pages through writing. This changes our lens and suddenly we aren’t just static individuals, we’re complex networks interacting with other complex networks. From here we can see that our internal communication may have more direct pathways but there are bridges between the different islands of complex networks currently housed in individual bodies. We care for, try to understand, impact, and connect with each other meaningfully despite our separation.

When we begin to look at the networked self as this sort of fractal-esque motion of information flows, the problem of how the self both does and does not exist fades away: both can be true without being mutually exclusive. There are patterned density clusters that represent individuals but the bridges between them function as the space through which both influence and understanding may pass. These bridges are the channels through which we try to pass the wildly intricate subtleties of consent and autonomy. more