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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 must be
- Freely given
- Full and informed
- Clearly and accurately communicated
- Applicable only to the individual in question
- Preferably witnessed
Consent, once given,
- Cannot be changed or revoked
- Is contractually binding
- Is limited in time and scope
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
- Apology – the violator apologises to the victim
- Compensation – the violator compensates the victim
- Humiliation – the violator is humiliated before the victim and society
- Incarceration – the violator’s freedom of movement is restricted for a period
- Removal – the violator is removed from the society, by exile or internal imprisonment
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.
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
- Prohibition on the initiation of violence (unless consented to eg in contact sports)
- Property rights
- Appropriate response to violations
- Primacy of the individual
- Dispute resolution
- Limits on governments and groups
- 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.