In 1922, Walter Lippmann coined the idea of “manufactured consent” in his book Public Opinion. The book seems to accept the premise that the social contract was predicated upon consent; that without the consent of the governed, the legitimacy of the government falls into question. But Lippmann argued that people are generally very bad at observing and interpreting their social and political environments. Citing the inherent impossibility of having the adequately-informed public necessary for a properly-functioning democracy in the modern world, he advocated the use of manufactured consent in order to run a better, more functional democratic society.
The curious language of this argument as “manufacturing consent” is deeply troubling and undermining to the classical Western view of the relationship between government and its citizens, or of consent more generally. Although the phrase “manufactured consent” pays tacit homage to the importance of consent, consent simply is not real if it is manufactured. Why bother with such lip-service? Why not simply advocate paternalism honestly, or advocate the use of propaganda without bringing consent into the picture? One could easily talk about the importance of information dissemination without attacking the concept of consent. I depend upon certain websites and individuals for information about current affairs, and this in no way implies an undermining of choice or consent in my relationship with these sources. But Lippman chose to bring up the subject of consent and redefine it as something which could be manufactured.
Why Lippmann would do this in the 20’s, is anyone’s guess.
This strange relationship between manipulation and consent has become enshrined in academic circles, which attempt to champion consent while simultaneously seeking to maximally manipulate what people feel they can, cannot, ought to, and ought not to consent to. Perhaps most notable among these academics is Noam Chomsky, whose coauthored 1988 book Manufacturing Consent argued that the entire media industry was essentially a propaganda system which induced self-censorship and manipulated the public without overt force or coercion. Interestingly, Chomsky and Herman (the other author) believed that “anti-communism” happened to be one of the five big filters of the media propaganda program. Had the ideological filter been anti-Christian instead, or anti-American, or anti-White, it’s hard to say if academics like Chomsky would have taken as much of an issue with it. If they were of the Lippmann school of thought, we’d be inclined to believe that it is the particular filter that is bad, rather than the existence of a filter. Indeed, the growing schism between classical liberals and progressives seems to be evidence that the progressives do in fact like having that filter, they just want a different one (liberals, by contrast, oppose the filter on principle). And the anti-American, anti-white, anti-Christian filters seem to be more or less to the progressive’s liking, because it can lead to white Americans giving consent to be dispossessed of their homeland and their culture.
But the manufacture of consent has taken an even more sinister form in recent years. For years, progressive activists claiming to advocate for women’s safety have been campaigning for “affirmative consent,” on the tacit premise that the primary cause of rape and sexual violence has been men’s inability to detect reticence in their female partners. All reason to the contrary, this view has nonetheless been pushed as though it were not only supported by evidence, but was in fact self-evident.
The absurdity of this position is worth detailing. Affirmative consent is a legal standard for determining the moral and legal legitimacy of a sexual encounter, and the culmination of affirmative consent can be seen in the blueprint “yes means yes” policy. This policy attempts to establish in law that:
…consent is a voluntary, affirmative, conscious, agreement to engage in sexual activity, that it can be revoked at any time, that a previous relationship does not constitute consent, and that coercion or threat of force can also not be used to establish consent. Affirmative consent can be given either verbally or nonverbally. Additionally, the law clarified that a person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or is either not awake or fully awake, is also incapable of giving consent.
What is being changed? It is not as though rape was not already illegal. The policy appears to essentially reverse the burden of proof, such that consent, rather than lack of consent, must be demonstrated, holding the man to be a rapist until proven otherwise. But this interpretation is too legally absurd, even for most dyed-in-the-wool leftists. Outside the more extreme campuses experiencing ideologically-induced collective cluster B symptoms, it will not hold up in court.
The policy advocates claim that by fostering a culture of affirmative consent, we can protect women from rape, but the policy-blueprint itself acknowledges that consent can be given either verbally or nonverbally (quote emphasis mine). Can non-consent be verbal or non-verbal too? Can someone who does not want sex say yes, but mean no? The last line in the policy about drugs or alcohol seems to imply so. If this is indeed the case, then affirmative consent policies establish a standard that is both insufficient and unnecessary. What—one can’t help but wonder—could such a standard be for? Cui bono?
The advocates are right that “affirmative consent” policies do change our culture, but what’s changing is not our appreciation of consent. Rather it is changing our understanding of consent. Where consent was once something viscerally obvious and which required no explanation, “affirmative action” turns consent into an abstraction that is in principle easy to retain and deny, but in reality, more difficult to pin down and prove in either direction. Lippmann claimed to defend the interests of the people, while in fact undermining the premise of civic consent by expanding what is considered a legitimate basis for consent, and thus, expanded what is considered legitimate for a sovereign power. In the same way, affirmative consent culture claims to defend the interests of the victim class, but in fact establishes a generally accepted moral legitimacy for sex so long as the sex is preceded by some kind of understanding of affirmative consent, whatever that looks like.
Neither men nor women are helped by such a notion. Women are not protected from the actual causes of rape (lust, hatred, opportunity, criminal culture, mental disorder), although women are now armed to socially destroy men with whom they have sex and then have second thoughts. Men, as a group, obviously don’t gain much from such an arrangement. Neither party is—generally speaking—likely to be talked into sex that they really don’t want. Adult men and women usually know what they want and aren’t easily tricked into saying “yes” when they aren’t sure or don’t want to.
Children, on the other hand, are a different story.
Children look up to adults as authorities and are taught to obey them as such. Children are not experienced in language, and often are unaware of the ramifications of their speech, legal or otherwise. In short, it is child’s play for an adult (so inclined) to convince a child to say “yes” to something, whether that something is benign or malignant. They can do this because children are not experienced enough to grasp the reality of the meaning of words. For a child, “sex” is something abstract, something completely alien to their knowledge of themselves or the world. At least the first time.
The last several years has seen a serious, and previously unthinkable spike in pedophile apologia and moral re-examination. The shift is still a bit tepid, as if the waiting advocates aren’t entirely sure if the time is right or not yet; Salon unpublished its articles defending pedophilia, and TEDx unpublished its video on the subject (unfortunately for TED, it is still viewable in many places). But even if the current push retracts, like a toe dipping into the water and deciding its still too cold, the underlying desire is still there, and will be coming back when they feel that public opinion has warmed to them sufficiently. Perhaps they can manufacture that warming. But with the advocacy of “consent education,” and this culture of consent generally, they may not have to. Who needs to lower the “age of consent” when you can change the culture? When you change the culture, you don’t need to change the law.
Of course, it would be irresponsible to hold all who advocate for affirmative consent and “yes means yes” to be pedophiles or willing pedophile enablers. Most of these people are either stupid, or are overly-agreeable people who go along with the University crowd because they believe the crowd is generally right. But they need not be knowing participants for the effects of such a policy to harm children by narrowing our conception of consent to something merely verbal and quasi-contractual, if even that. By narrowing and abstracting our conception of consent, the application of consent because expanded because such a simultaneously narrow and vague conception is easy to acquire, “verbally or nonverbally.” It is, in fact, easy to manufacture. Especially among children.
Caveat Emptor, little Timmy.