The Consent in the Machine

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy o...

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The Consent in the Machine: An Allegory

The title “The Consent in the Machine” is meant to invoke an association with The Ghost in the MachineArthur Koestler‘s 1967 thesis that the mind of a person is not an independent entity, temporarily inhabiting and governing the body, but something integral to and inseparable from it.

In that context I want to compare and contrast two versions of consent:

  1. “Manufactured Consent”, a kind of mindless, mechanical conformity created by mass media by gradually displacing  natural organic consent and replacing it with a fake, manufactured substitute, described by Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), and
  2. “Manifested Consent”,  evoked by re-taking the status quo “Machine” (state or corporation) and cultivating a natural, organic consent throughout its parts by a revival of the public interest. This vision might be represented by The Greening of America (1970), a paean to the counterculture of the 1960s and its values by Charles A. Reich

Consent of the Governed

The preeminent feature of a valid, legitimate, and just government is the consent of the governed. That is what true libertarians are all about, although they admit that the very words government and governed imply submission to authority. We rightly prefer the authority of impartial law to the authority of particular men. (Note: Where some libertarians (you may not know who you are) go off the tracks and into the ditch is that they decide to put arbitrary limits on what laws and public enterprises we the people have the right to establish in the public sector, or they quibble about what constitutes consent to the point that no law could ever be enforced. At the same time, they tolerate and ignore many laws and contracts which are actually insults to freedom and decency. For example, many libertarians don’t seem to mind a legal system that allows people to sell themselves or to sell, waive, or alienate their basic legal and human rights. The common consensual “employment at will” contract does all of those things. One can argue that if the alternative to a contract is starvation it isn’t consensual (it is entered under duress) and/or that persons do not “own” and therefor cannot sell themselves, and/or that certain legal and human rights really shall be inalienable under any circumstance and no consent to the contrary shall be enforcable.)

The frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan

But this isn’t about libertarians. Its about consent in the state, in governance, in commerce, and in society in general.

The dying of the light and the death of consent

The inalienable right of consent we think we have has been conjured away and in its place is the zombie version, a mindless conformity, brainwashed into us by mass media. The zombie doesn’t really make choices, it follows subliminal suggestions. The zombie thinks it is making choices because that is what it is told it is doing.

Resurrecting Consent

How can we bring the zombies back to life and restore their natural, organic, and inalienable right of consent? To do this we must transplant true, organic consent back into the machine, back into all the zombies that make up the machine and that operate the machine at the direction of the mass media. We must somehow get that consent even back into those zombies that work inside the mass media itself, so the mass media will cease to follow the commands of the Great Pirates and their off-world Reptilian Overlords.

But How?

Most people see the modern state or a nation as divided into a public sector, a private sector, and, often, the civil society. But I see that the divisions and distinctions between the public sector, private sector, and civil society are progressively dissolving. Perhaps rightly so.

My theory is as follows:

A modern theory of society and property as a network of relations

The machine is made up of a “state” and many corporations full of zombies. A state can be viewed as a special corporation that operates certain “natural monopolies” for the people of a geographical area. All other corporations are subsidiaries of the state which charters, regulates and taxes them. The state’s charter is its constitution and its bylaws are its statutes. Corporations can be related hierarchically and/or horizontally. Their internal structure, management, and operating procedures are defined by their charters and bylaws as well as by the constraints imposed by the state, by any other corporations by which a subordinate corporation is held, and by their contracts with other corporations or individuals.

These charters, bylaws, and contracts are formal specifications of relations that can take many forms that sometimes defy classification; but which can often be categorized by where they lie on various continua or axes. One such axis is autocratic-consensual (or similarly, authoritarian-egalitarian). Democratic is somewhere between autocratic and consensual. Another axis is open-closed (which can apply to any number of matters such as information transparency, membership, employment, accountability, etc.)

The “public interest”, whether expressed as general welfare, as life-liberty-happiness, as life-liberty-equality, or some other type of utility, is best served, in general, by the greatest possible consent of We the People. Consent is served by transparency and accountability. This is an oversimplification of utility, but the public-private axis should be redefined as a composite index of public-interest factors that are satisfied by any given corporation, including the state.

Put another way, the public interest spans everything public, private, and civic. It is only served by corporations, including the state, to the degree that they satisfy such functional public-interest criteria as consent, transparency, symmetry, accountability, democracy, inclusion, opportunity, sustainability, reciprocity, human dignity & etc., etc., etc.

But the mass media has cast the public interest into the outer darkness of the underworld. These magic words, consent, transparency, symmetry, accountability, democracy, inclusion, opportunity, sustainability, reciprocity, human dignity & etc., etc., etc., are spells and incantations that conjure up the public interest from the underworld.

Note: if the word “corporation” is too odious and frightful to some, a word like “association” or group can be substituted as long as its understood to include corporations both as we know them and as they might become. The word is not the thing. The important thing is the web of functional relationships between people.

When the zombies in the mass media and in all the other corporations have been brought back to life by the awakening and spreading of the public interest, and organic consent is restored to one and all throughout the land, the corporations will  once again be called by their true and natural  names: Guilds, lodges, societies, commons, commonwealths, cooperatives, partnerships, communities, communes, villages, tribes, families, etc.

Poor Richard

Related PRA2010 post:

The Property Problem

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One Response to “The Consent in the Machine”

  1. Analyzing mixed socio-economic systems « Poor Richard's Almanack 2010 Says:

    […] Consent […]


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