The Consent Axiom


I believe that the basis for successful human coexistence can be reduced to a single statement, a single concept. This statement is the Consent Axiom:
No action without consent
This statement is as brief and uncompromising as the biblical 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”.  Like most 4 word sentences, some further elaboration is required for better understanding.

Principle

This statement is a principle. It describes how you ought to behave. It does not proscribe how you  will behave. It is not changed by circumstances. It does not vary relative to prevailing conditions. It does not take utility or the greatest good into account. It says that you may take no action against another human being without their full and informed consent. Period.

Action

Like Newton, we must define the meaning of the term “action” quite carefully. For an action against another to require the consent of the other, then that action  must be immediate in time and space, must  have significant consequences for the other, and must have physical reality

  1. Immediate in time and space: the request for consent and the action must be within a reasonable time and distance of each other. Consent given now does not imply ongoing consent into the future. Consent given in one place does not imply consent in all places. Consent for an action is not required from people far removed from the consequences of that action, in space or time.
  2. Significant consequences: daily life involves many actions which have insignificant consequences for those around us, and do not require their consent. These actions are largely covered by the ordinary rules of civility and manners. However, both the action and the predictable consequences of that action must be considered. While a gentle shove at the top of a cliff may not be considered murder, the consequences at the bottom certainly are. I believe you must take responsibility for the immediate but unintended consequences of any deliberate action, even when lawful in terms of the consent axiom.
  3. Physical reality: actions requiring consent must have a physical reality. Looking at someone, talking about or to someone, thinking evil thoughts about them, these actions do not require consent. Screaming in their ear would require their consent.

Consent

Consent must be

  1. Freely given
  2. Full and informed
  3. Specific
  4. Clearly and accurately communicated
  5. Applicable only to the individual in question
  6. Preferably witnessed

Consent,  once given,

  1. Cannot be changed or revoked
  2. Is contractually binding
  3. Is limited in time and scope

Exceptions

The consent axiom only addresses relationships between human beings. Everything else, including animals and the environment are considered as property, either of individuals, or unowned.
Some human beings, such as very young children or the insane or unconscious, are incapable of informed consent. In that case they are considered as the property of a consenting individual, or unowned.  If ownership is challenged (by anyone), the decision on ownership must be taken by a duly appointed jury.  If an individual is considered unowned, by themselves or by anyone else, then they must rely on the charity and intervention of their peers.
Some actions are considered so overwhelmingly good for  society that their performance overrides any individual objections (for example, vaccination, environmental preservation (eg global warming), terrorist apprehension). This argument is inevitably the top of a slippery slope, on which all manner of further consent violations are justified. This argument should be rejected.
In a democracy, the decisions taken by a majority are considered binding on the minority, with or without their consent. In a consenting society this silly concept simply would not apply.
In some cases, such as an accident, a request for consent from the victim has no meaning. In such cases, the person responsible for the accident, even if unintentional, must take responsibility for the consequences of  the action precipitating the accident.
How do you deal with members of your society who do not consent to be bound by the consent axiom and its implications?  As described below under disputes,  both victim and violator have rights to a trial by jury under the consent axiom. If a non-consenting consent violator gives up that right, then the violator’s guilt must be automatically presumed, and punishment must follow.

An extreme example

Imagine you have spotted a young girl in an Iraqi market wearing an oddly bulging outfit under which you have clearly seen wires and straps. The consent law says you OUGHT to ask her consent, or at least wait until she makes some unambiguous threatening action, before responding.  Since the consequences of her threatening gesture may be coming at you at several thousand feet per second, you may well decide to take pre-emptive action and shoot her first. However, if you do this, YOU must now bear the consequences of your unlawful act (and for the sake of order in society, this must always remain an unlawful act). If the 12 year old girl you shot with little or no warning turns out to be a spina bifida sufferer, with wires and straps up and down her poor tortured body, then you can expect a jury of your peers to be quite harsh. If there was more semtex than child under the robe, you might yet get a medal. Its not fair, its just how it is.

Unintended consequences

Every action has unpredictable and unintended consequences. Who would have thought the invention of the atomic bomb would ensure world peace for 70 years? Who would have thought a message of love and peace would result in the crusades and the inquisition? Who knows how many deserving microbes you kill every time you breath? Are you responsible for the unintended consequences of your actions? Well, if not you, then who? God? Fate? Both are difficult to sue. I believe you must take responsibility for the immediate but unintended consequences of any deliberate action, even when lawful in terms of the consent axiom.  However, these consequences must be immediate both in time and place.

Society

A consenting society is that group of people who acknowledge and respect the consent axiom as the basis of their social interactions.  Members of such a society will understand their mutual obligation to resist and punish consent violations, and to provide jury members for dispute resolutions.

Disputes

As with all human endeavours, disputes will arise. I believe that the resolution of these disputes is a task for a jury of your peers when other avenues such as compensation and apology have failed.
The size and composition of the jury must be consented to by both parties to the dispute.  If agreement on a jury cannot be reached in a reasonable time (7 days, for example), both sides select six jurors, and a foreman with a casting vote is chosen by random lottery of the jury members.  Jury decisions are made by a simple majority vote. Any jury decision may be appealed to another jury until one side or the other has 3 identical decisions in its favour. Thereafter the jury decision becomes binding upon both parties to the dispute, and is added to the set of legal precedents for that  society which defines the common law.

The Jury

The members of the jury alone determine the rules for the hearing. They may be guided by well-established rules of legal procedure and evidence, but they are not bound by it. They may appoint a judge or judges to guide them, they may invite or allow lawyers to represent the parties,  they may call witnesses, conduct investigations, seek the opinion of experts, or do whatever is required to reach a decision. They will be funded equally by the parties to the dispute during the hearing, but may finally decide on any allocation of costs they see fit.
Because it is a matter of chance as to which side obtains the casting vote on the jury, it will be important for both sides to select jurors committed to acting on the merits of the case, rather than jurors blindly supporting the side which appointed them. I believe that a class of professional, impartial jurors will arise whose primary asset will be their reputation for fair decisions. This class of jurors will provide the pool from which most parties to a dispute will make their jury selection.

Consent violations

If someone does take action without consent, then that action is unlawful and should be punished.  Who will punish  such a violation? In the first instance, the victim of the violation, if capable, is the most obvious candidate for exacting judgement and punishment. The punishment may vary from an apology, or compensation,  through to capture and removal from the consenting society.  Failing this, in the second instance, members of the victim’s social network, such as family, friends and colleagues will assist in exacting judgement and punishment against a consent violator. If this second group is not capable, then in the final instance, the unrelated members of the consenting society must take responsibility for the consent violation, as a cost and obligation that they bear by virtue of their membership of that society.  It is likely that formal structures, such as  police forces and judiciaries, would be setup by most societies to fulfil this obligation, funded by consenting members of that society.
It is likely that any response by a victim or society against a consent violator may not enjoy the violator’s consent. In this case, the original violator may declare a dispute and the matter would be decided by a jury, as described above. In other words, responses to consent violations are themselves subject to the consent axiom, and must not violate a jury’s sense of reasonableness.

Punishment

What punishments may a jury impose on a convicted consent violator? It is my belief that a jury may impose any punishment it pleases (subject to later appeal), except one.  A jury may not decide to take the life of any individual under any circumstance.  Generally, a jury would be guided by existing precedents for crimes and punishments.
My personal suggested scale of punishments is as follows:

  1. Apology – the violator apologises to the victim
  2. Compensation – the violator compensates the victim
  3. Humiliation – the violator is humiliated before the victim and society
  4. Incarceration – the violator’s freedom of movement is restricted for a period
  5. Removal – the violator is removed from the society, by exile or internal imprisonment

Morality

Morality arises from choice, not coercion. I believe there are discoverable “absolute” moral values. Such an absolute value would optimise the success (survival, comfort, wealth, happiness) of its adherents in the majority of environments, whether they be humans, microbes or aliens from Alpha Centauri. I believe the consent axiom represents such an absolute moral value or proposition.
For example, it has been shown mathematically using game theory that the optimum strategy for survival in a competitive environment is the so-called “tit for tat” strategy. Both the “trust everyone” and “trust no one” strategies are inferior.

Conclusion

I would describe the consent axiom as the definition of a minimum ethical consensus. It is that smallest set of ethical considerations on which a useful number of individuals may agree, which are nevertheless sufficient for producing  a peaceful and productive society.
The implications of this axiom incorporate most libertarian beliefs in a non-contradictory manner, viz

  1. Prohibition on the initiation of violence (unless consented to eg in contact sports)
  2. Property rights
  3. Contracts
  4. Appropriate response to violations
  5. Primacy of the individual
  6. Dispute resolution
  7. Limits on governments and groups
  8. Freedom of speech and belief

The consent axiom here described says that the rights of the individual are paramount, but that disputes between individuals must be resolved by a group.

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  1. #1 by Piet le Roux on November 8, 2010 - 9:49 pm

    Interesting, Trevor. But don’t you think that it is possible for ‘consent’ to emerge as the conduct of choice, rather than for it to be a moral prescription?

    in other words, even if no-one feels morally obligated to uphold the consent axiom, as long as it is beneficial to someone that person might act in a way no different from what your moral prescription requires, without having any moral qualm about it.

    • #2 by Trevor Watkins on November 9, 2010 - 9:10 am

      Indeed, the vast majority of people exercise the consent axiom most of the time. It is engrained in polite society with phrases such as “By your leave” and “if you don’t mind”. It is included in several constitutions – “the consent of the governed”.

      However, when we ask how society as a whole should be ordered, many reasonable answers present themselves, not based on consent. Some common ideas for managing the interactions amongst larger groups of individuals are:
      1. The greatest good for the greatest number.
      2. The choice of the majority.
      3. The choices of a particular class – aristocracy, communism
      4. The will of the leader

      The consent axiom essay attempts to formalise an alternative idea, filling in some of the frequently asked questions. The test of such society-ordering ideas is always – “at what point do you call the society police (no matter how you might describe them)”. In other words, what defines a crime requiring intervention and recourse within the accepted rules of that society. Sometimes it is merely defying the will of the leader, or the majority, sometimes it is pursuing your own interest above that of the community. I attempt to describe a consenting society in which the society police are only called in the event of a consent violation.

      If mutual consent is the basis of how you normally behave, then you would have no problem living in a consenting society. Of course, you must be prepared to put up with all that weird consensual behaviour that others might adopt, so long as it doesn’t directly affect you.

  2. #3 by aninnymouse on December 9, 2010 - 8:59 am

    As I read through your Word Press article, I had a flash of us sitting
    in some pub or place in Johannesburg for a gathering of the clan and I
    remembered that conversation that we had. You had been reading Oliver
    Stone and I said that I though I was autistic, you said no.

    Well, as it turns out, I’m not autistic, but I sure as hell have a
    brain that doesn’t function in some areas. So, I have a disability,
    and am registered disabled in the USA. So, it is with great interest
    that I realized that I had to fall into the category of ‘unowned’ and
    would have to rely on the charity of friends and others.

    Um. Yes. Why do you think I left South Africa. What charity? It must
    have been apparent to everybody and his dog that I struggled my butt
    off for close on 50 years and never had one bit of help from anybody
    else. If I had to relay on charity, I would have been dead. Actually,
    since coming to the States and having gone through 2 1/2 years of
    disability counseling, both counselors are beyond words as they say my
    survival is nothing short of a miracle. Guess looks and brains came
    into play. 🙂

    The bottom line is that although all this sounds fine in theory, it
    doesn’t work. From all those many years of experience, for the most
    part, there is no help if one has the misfortune to be born into the
    wrong circumstances. Yes, a few are genetically predisposed to survive
    (as I was), but that’s about it. It is not easy. In essence, if
    everybody was equal, and if everybody had the same ability, and if
    everybody had a good heart, then the philosophy you put forward would
    work. But that is not the reality of what the peoples of the good
    earth are about.

    So, let’s talk about civilization. It’s a lot more than a settlement
    of houses and fancy technology. Civilization is also about taking care
    of one’s brother. It’s about looking at the greater good, something
    that your article in Word Press seems to disregard. Ironically,
    without the greater community, an individual’s life becomes much more
    difficult.

    You know, until I came to America, I never really grasped something.
    None of the advice I read in American books actually worked in South
    Africa (Law of Attraction, etc.) When I came here, I discovered that
    the infrastructure of the country supported people, and that it had
    nothing to do with some mystic magic of positive thinking. It had more
    to do with the facilities available to people. In the same way, it is
    very difficult to understand just how important the actions of the
    community around one impact on one’s life until one tries to live
    totally on one’s own and treats oneself as a sovereign ruler. It
    doesn’t work. Great in theory. Unworkable in practice.

    The individual survives and prospers to the extent that the community
    permits him that survival and prosperity.

    Anyway, Trevor, that’s my bit. 🙂

  3. #4 by Erich Viedge on December 9, 2010 - 9:41 am

    When Manto Tshabalala Msimang outlawed smoking in public places, I was outraged. I’m not a smoker.
    I believed at the time that sitting in a restaurant or bar where people were smoking might be unhealthy; but going for a run on a Johannesburg morning was probably just as bad.
    How dare the minister of Health circumscribe people’s freedom like that? It was appalling.
    Then the ban came and about a week later, I realised I’d come home from a pub, late at night, and didn’t smell like a cigarette. I was absolutely delighted and had nothing but praise for Manto Tshabalala Msimang. On the smoking issue, anyway.
    The point:

    1. Consent is usually not informed. I understood that banning smoking would be good for non-smokers like myself, but it robbed smokers of their ability to commit their victimless crime of smoking. Is passive smoking bad for me? Is smelling like a cigarette bad for me? I didn’t think it was too bad. Until it went away. I’ve been in other countries where no such ban exists and I’ve wished fervently somebody would do something about it — a 180-degree turn from where I was before the ban. My lack of consent wasn’t informed.

    1a. There’s a lot of hot air (pun intended) about whether Global Warming is real or not. Some journalists say it doesn’t exist. Scientists say it does. So “informed consent” turns into ignorant people refusing to listen to the other person’s viewpoint and shouting really really loudly.

    2. Tess is right. We live in a society. We are supported by that society. And civilisation means looking after each other. If there’s profit in unsustainable business practices, then they should be pursued, surely? If there’s profit in underpaying workers because they’re too timid to complain, surely it’s our fiscal duty to continue to underpay workers?
    It may be our fiscal duty, but it’s not very civilised.

    😉

    • #5 by Trevor Watkins on December 9, 2010 - 10:27 am

      Consent is usually not informed

      You, as an individual, may fail to exercise your right to consent, through error or ignorance. For example, when entering private premises you may ignore or fail to note the sign stating that entry implies agreement to allow others to exhale tobacco smoke around you (eg a sign saying “Smoking permitted”). You may object, at which time your error will be pointed out to you. You may now consent or depart. The choice is yours. What you cannot do, in a consenting society, is insist that everyone else inside these private premises should bend to your will, if necessary at the point of Manto’s gun.

      With reference to point 1a – do not assume that “informed consent” means the opinion of the majority, or the scientists, or anyone else. Informed consent simply means that the individual in question has adequate and honest information on which to base the consent decision. So, for example, I can’t put up a sign which says “smoking permitted”, when actually it means we will be setting fire to you. That is fraud, and would constitute a consent violation. Putting up a sign which says “Smoking is harmful” (or “Global warming is harmful”) is merely an opinion, and does not involve consent.

      civilisation means looking after each other

      Actually, civilisation has generally lead to the slaughter of each other – check your history. In actual fact, more than 60% of all charity in America is privately funded, despite taxes. 95% of people are nice, the rest are politicians.

  4. #6 by aninnymouse on December 9, 2010 - 2:07 pm

    Trevor, yes, one can walk out of the pub because there are smokers. However, if smoking were permitted lawfully, most places would permit smoking. This would immediately mean that those people who didn’t smoke (and realized how smelly it was) wouldn’t have many places to go. I’m not even talking health here.

    At what point do all the evils in the world, excess drinking, drug taking, smoking, which on the surface, which supposedly harm nobody but the individual, actually impact on the community? In early Victorian England, there was a pub on every corner, and the British were a drunken people. Queen Victoria banned the pubs and built a church on every corner. The resulting sobriety had an incredibly positive impact on British production and the British Empire. People became more productive!

    You say, “Actually, civilisation has generally lead to the slaughter of each other – check your history. In actual fact, more than 60% of all charity in America is privately funded, despite taxes. 95% of people are nice, the rest are politicians”

    Actually, not true, Trevor. Welfare costs both the UK and the US billions. Private charity doesn’t come close! Without that social welfare (and, yes, a few take advantage but not nearly as many as is presumed by those who do not want to spend their tax on it) these people would probably become criminals, because it would be the only way they can survive.

    Also, I’m going to take issue with your fact that 95% of people are nice.

    While an action taken by only a small percentage of the community does not have any great negative impact on the community, when those individual actions reach a certain number, they begin to impact negatively on the community (good actions work the same way, by the way).

    I’m sure you are familiar with the experiments of Stanley Milgram.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

    The point is that 96% of people are blindly obedient in the face of authority, regardless of the fact that the authority could be malicious. In other words, how do you define nice. If nice is being polite to people when the going is good, that’s not nice. Nice is been nice when the going is really tough.

    🙂

    • #7 by Trevor Watkins on December 11, 2010 - 9:36 am

      You make the common mistake of assuming your standards and values are the correct standards for everyone, and therefore no consent is needed. The very fact that you claim most pubs would allow smoking, if not prevented from doing so, indicates that your desire for clean air is in the MINORITY. You want clean air, don’t go to a pub!

      Personally, I think replacing pubs with churches is a disastrous idea 3 times over. No doubt this was done at the expense of the public, including drinkers.

      The following quote is from an excellent article on the subject of private charity.

      Private efforts have been much more successful than the federal government’s failed attempt at charity. America is the most generous nation on earth. Americans already contribute more than $125 billion annually to charity. In fact, more than 85 percent of all adult Americans make some charitable contribution each year. In addition, about half of all American adults perform volunteer work; more than 20 billion hours were worked in 1991. The dollar value of that volunteer work was more than $176 billion. Volunteer work and cash donations combined bring American charitable contributions to more than $300 billion per year, not counting the countless dollars and time given informally to family members, neighbors, and others outside the formal charity system.

  5. #8 by aninnymouse on December 11, 2010 - 3:40 pm

    1) No, Trevor, I do not assume that my values and standards are the correct standards for everybody. You make the mistake of assuming it’s possible for conflicting standards to live peacefully and by consent, in the same world. It’s a wonderful idea, but it’s not workable, it never has been workable, and it never will be workable.One man’s meat is another man’s poison. That’s why wars break out. If laws are not enforced, then communities will soon be dominated by bullies, tyrannies, and others who assume that they have the right to do anything they want to, and screw everybody else.

    Incidentally, why do you think that Merkel recently said that diversity has been a great failure. People who are very different, for the most part, do not live peacefully together. The closer you force them to be, the more likely there will be a crises of peace at some point. That’s why a lot of countries have been moving towards the right in Europe…

    Americans donate to foundations and charities, NOT to individuals. Very little of that money is actually seen by individuals. More than 20% of Americans are currently on foodstamps because they can’t afford to buy foods. Yes, Bill Gates gives a fortunte to charities. They are different foundations in Africa for vacinations, etc. The poor in America do not see a cent of this so-called charity. Neither do they in England. Most foundations are not permitted to give to individuals. They can only give to organisations.

    Most of this so called ‘charity’ given money is used to pay staff for various services. The guys who head these charities generally get paid a fortune (all from the charitable giving) and there’s very little left for the people who actually need it.

    I move a lot on the bottom rungs of society, Trevor. I see what’s going on. Sorry, that charitable giving isn’t going to the people who need it. If you recall, America has given millions/billons to countries in Africa like Zimbabwe. The poor never got it. It all went into Mugabe’s pocket. The same goes with all this ‘charitable’ giving…

    • #9 by Trevor Watkins on December 12, 2010 - 4:57 pm

      Different nationalities and cultures can get along fine with each other, under the right philosophical framework. America is the best example of that, but so is Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, all made up of diverse immigrant cultures living under a reasonable and popular constitution. As soon as one bunch try to impose control on another by force, the whole society goes pear-shaped, even when it is reasonably homogenous – most of the Middle east bears testimony to that.

      Ironic that Merkel, a German, should call diversity a great failure. Uniformity didn’t work so well for Germany, either. Overall, I think I prefer diversity with respect to uniformity with enforcement.

      Of course Americans and everybody else donate to individuals. The vast majority of charity is from one individual to another, its just hard to record. Donations to institutions are recorded on your tax form, giving a dollar to a bum is only recorded by god. I only make one formal donation a year (to the FMF), but my wife and I make hundreds of small donations all the time to the people around us, and I am sure so does everyone else. Although private charity is vastly under recorded, it still exceeds state welfare several times over. Of course, state welfare is recorded meticulously, to be used as fodder at the next election.

      Read the Cato article I referred you to. Although the charity industry is distorted, although big name charities are no better than money-making machines, there is still general agreement, by both government and civil society, that private charity does a better job of distributing aid than government run welfare organisations. This is only to be expected since government does NOTHING well.

  6. #10 by aninnymouse on December 11, 2010 - 7:52 pm

    Trevor, you might also like to listen to this video.

    As the speaks says, Soros relieves his conscience by giving $20 to a child to have an operation in Africa. However, what Soros is doing is trying to fix with this right hand what his left hand has caused.

    If there was a system that was more equitable – and it is not Libertarianiism – then these things wouldn’t happen to the degree that they do.

    The speaker wishes to outlaw charity giving. It’s worth listening to. 🙂

  7. #11 by Wilfred on February 7, 2011 - 10:28 pm

    Hi Trevor.

    This seemed like a more appropriate place to continue where we left off here:
    http://www.thedailymaverick.co.za/article/2011-02-02-astrology-the-gullibles-travails-are-written-in-the-stars#comment-9505

    You wrote, “You say that, unlike Ayn Rand, we are all in this together. Of course, you don’t really mean this at all. If you REALLY meant that, then you would give ALL your wealth, time and energy to the service of others, until we were all equally rich (or poor). We are all in this together only up to the point at which it begins to become uncomfortable for you. Then its every man for himself. Ayn Rand and I try to be honest about this. The fact is, people help themselves better than they help each other. I and other libertarians try to do as little as possible to interfere with their efforts to help themselves.”

    Actually, what I REALLY mean is exactly what you said. We are all in this together up to the point at which it becomes uncomfortable.

    It seems to me also that the overwhelming majority of people try harder to help themselves than they do to help others.

    But TRYING HARDER isn’t always effective.

    I’ll bet that if the smartest people in your (our) country held the positions (in enterprise or government) that demanded the most smarts, your economy and your politics would benefit. That would leave the state with more money to treat individuals as individuals, thereby promoting at least some of our liberties.

    Unfortunately, helping all the smartest people to graduate is going to require more than just their parents trying harder. It’s going to require public funds. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, if the public is going to benefit.

    Hey, it might even result in smart people administrating public funds! Wouldn’t that be nice? (Then again, perhaps that’s part of the problem: Smart people are administrating public funds. Just the wrong smart people. 🙂 Maybe we just need a smarter electorate.)

    • #12 by Trevor Watkins on February 8, 2011 - 3:58 pm

      I don’t think government fails due to a lack of intelligent people in government. As you will read in the “Socialism vs Capitalism article on this site, government actually succeeds very well at promoting the interests of governments and their employees. It just fails at promoting the general and individual welfare, because its incentives are focussed elsewhere. Recruiting more intelligent people to the wrong cause is only likely to make things worse (consider the Nazis).

      If you wish to promote individual welfare, then the best people to do that are individuals looking after their own welfare, unhindered by governments, taxes, wars, tariffs, conscription, regulation, corruption….

      In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, the scariest sentence in any language is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

      • #13 by Wilfred on February 8, 2011 - 5:36 pm

        I must agree with everything you’ve said, except for one point: “the best people to do that are individuals looking after their own welfare”

        This is almost always the case, but not always. Some people are mind-bogglingly useless at looking after their own welfare. And if every man was an island that wouldn’t really matter. Natural selection would “clean up” the useless without affecting anyone else.

        But unfortunately there are consequences to being mind-bogglingly useless that affect others, including me, and I’m sure you too.

        You might suggest I suck it up; that it’s the way of the world.

        You might be right. But my jury is still out. I can easily imagine that the number of people adversely affected by the useless would swell, and eventually they would team up, and collectively “violate the consent axiom” in a big way, targeting specifically those who have been more successful in promoting their own welfare.

        If the rich people were wise, they’d freely and collectively decide to make sure the destitute never got so poor and hopeless that revolution seemed like a good idea. But I don’t think we can rely on their wisdom. I think they are more likely to do what they have always done: Buy more guns instead.

        My point is that I do think that libertarianism is a beautiful idea. But I don’t think it’s a politically stable one.

        So I’m interested in exploring the idea that a successful society is in the best interests of its members. So far, according to Jared Diamond and others, the success of the society has historically been fortuitous in the case of the Middle East, Europe and China, not intentional, and certainly not to the benefit of ALL its members. But if one studies how to build successful societies intentionally, then one *could* engineer a stable society that results in a population of *relatively* free and fulfilled individuals. Maybe. Maybe not. But worth exploring.

        • #14 by Trevor Watkins on February 9, 2011 - 10:37 am

          “My point is that I do think that libertarianism is a beautiful idea. But I don’t think it’s a politically stable one”

          I agree that Libertarianism has not shown itself to be politically stable. It is generally described as “trying to herd cats”. The endless internal feuds in the US Libertarian Party, the lack of cohesion in the Tea Party, the absence of successful libertarian enclaves around the world – all point to the problem. I think the problem is that we try to use collective structures such as parties and governments to organise strongly individualist people. Its like trying to erect a building made out of liquid. The free market is a much better mechanism for organising cooperation between disparate individuals, and has been quite successful worldwide at improving the life of many. This is how “rich” people help the “poor”.My book, Consent to LIFE, takes this theme much further.

  8. #15 by Leon Louw on October 15, 2011 - 3:54 pm

    I see this on your website:

    Consent, once given,

    Cannot be changed or revoked
    Is contractually binding
    Is limited in time and scope

    I’m a little worried bout the revocation bit. If consent is contractually binding, that’s fine, but it may not be.

    Consent to sex on a date can presumably be withdrawn if either changes their mind, or consent to punching me on the nose in a fight, if I decide to withdraw.

    Also consent may not be limited, such as consent to you owning my widget absolutely in perpetuity.

    Small changes would be a tad more accurate:

    Consent, once given,

    Is contractually binding
    Cannot then be changed or revoked
    May be limited in time and scope

    I am mindful, of course, that one ends up, as Popper warned, in an infinite and futile journey if you try to remove all ambiguity from communication. But, as he said, we can work at minimizing it by trying communicate the “essentials” as best we can.


    Leon Louw

    • #16 by Trevor Watkins on October 15, 2011 - 4:09 pm

      Thanks for the input Leon. I think your points are valid and will consider amending the axiom accordingly. I would like to hear more comment from others before doing so, though.

      The key point I was trying to convey with “cannot be changed or revoked” is that the granting of consent has significant consequences. You cannot consent to a boxing match, then revoke that consent just before a haymaker catches you on the nose. You cannot consent to sex then revoke that consent at the height of passion, despite what the female rights activists say. Once consent has been given, the other party has a reasonable right to expect the consent to stay given.

      The key point I was trying to convey with “is limited in time and scope” is that the consent given in 1 situation does not necessarily apply in all future situations. Consent given at 1 time does not necessarily imply consent at all future times. One does not draw up a contract for every human interaction, so it is hard to say that every interaction is contractually binding.

      My approach with the use of words in an axiom such as the consent axiom is to use short phrases as aides-memoire to much longer and more detailed conversations – a bit like crib notes in an exam. I attempt to get the key points of the axiom across in a few short phrases, in the knowledge that these short phrases cannot possibly cover all the cases and eventualities which may arise.

  9. #17 by T Watkins on behalf of Garth Zietsman on January 22, 2013 - 5:54 pm

    Comments by Garth Zietsman posted here by Trevor Watkins.

    Your point about different juries reaching different conclusions about that case is apt. Rand’s play Night of January 16th was specifically designed to be ambiguous so that decisions were made on values rather than the facts or law, but nevertheless there are a great many real cases where different juries (or different subsets of a jury) do reach different verdicts from the same information. A case in point is climate change. Apparently increased scientific knowledge doesn’t converge on a verdict at all but increases the political polarization around this issue.

    What’s the solution? I can suggest a few things that may improve matters.
    a) Training in the kinds of things that bias thinking e.g. behavioral economics stuff. This might not be so efficient because it seems that it is difficult for people to overcome these biases. For example people can rapidly learn about self serving biases and can use the knowledge effectively when evaluating the judgments of others but it seems that it is almost impossible to get people to accept (in practice) that their own judgments are biased in this fashion.
    b) Training on previous cases – especially those that had a faulty verdict. The advent of computer chess and online poker has increased the skill of players dramatically by compressing a large amount of experience into a much shorter time frame. It should work for judgment skills too.
    c) A process that gradually weans out the more bias prone among a pool of professional jurists. For example some sort of points system based on their performance. One source of points would be appeals. If a verdict of theirs gets overturned by another jury they lose points and if it gets upheld they gain some points. Pay and demand for your services (not to mention status) will depend on your points. When points fall too low you get dropped from the pool.
    d) Larger and more diverse juries. This will serve to damper the chances of all members having a similar bias. [Though juries are probably large enough.]
    e) Independent verdicts. Wisdom of the Crowds literature shows that talking to each other and consensus building tends to increase bias in the direction of the more forceful characters and not the most accurate characters. One could even use this (along with a points system) to make an accurate statistical statement of the probability of the judgment being correct.
    f) Allowing jury members to cross examine witnesses.
    g) Eventually we will build up knowledge about what makes a good juror and this could be use to pre-select or encourage those most likely to have jury talent – ala career counselling.
    h) My Smart Vote concept. Get a diverse fairly large group of moderate IQ people and a diverse fairly large group of high IQ people to go over the transcripts of a trial and have everyone independently give their verdict. The Smart Vote is not the most popular verdict with the more intelligent group but the DIRECTION in which the verdict goes as IQ increases i.e. which verdict has a higher proportion of the high IQ than the low IQ group picking it.

    All I am really sure of is that there is such a thing as variation in judgment skills and existing jury systems don’t provide any training at all in those skills. Juries are the equivalent of illiterates giving their verdict on the quality of writing. Sure one can teach any idiot to play chess or poker but training in those games makes a huge difference – like in any field. Why do we place life and death, or billion dollar matters, into the hands of beginners? Does that make sense? It would only be the case if verdicts were trivially easy but they aren’t.

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