As our class period came to a close today, Dr. McCoy told us a little anecdote about her own life and essentially left us to do what we wanted with it. This has brought an idea into my head that I had not previously considered in our discussions of consent in class thus far, and that is the notion of misguided consent.
Dr. McCoy explained to us today that as a professor, she has heard many stories over the years from first-year students about how they had been told countless stories about what college would be like and what to expect, only to start school and realize that it was nothing like what they had been told. I can certainly relate to this on a personal level, as I imagine a lot of us probably can. My initial thoughts went back to my experience as a freshman at Geneseo, where I found myself overwhelmed and clueless.
I was able to fend off the traumatic memories of my freshman year rather quickly, and turned my attention back to the course. I asked myself, why would Dr. McCoy feel like this was a valuable thing to contribute to the conversation that the class had been having about mutual symbiosis and the relationship between Ina and symbionts in Fledgling? The connection that I am able to draw is this: As I got ready to begin college, I thought I had an understanding of what I was getting myself into, but once I was committed and experiencing the realities of college life, I realized I had been misinformed about the decision I was making. Similarly, Ina apparently explain their lifestyle to humans who they desire as symbionts, explaining the relationship they will develop and giving them the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to commit to this way of life. But what if these humans only thought they understood what they were agreeing to when they became symbionts, only to find out later on that they really had had no idea what things would be like living with Ina?
When I made the decision to come to college, it was a kind of misguided consent; I was under the impression that I was making a commitment to one thing, but this thing turned out to be something quite different than what I’d thought. Perhaps the decision of humans to become symbionts can be viewed as a similar kind of misguided consent.
On page 161 of Fledgling, Brook explains that Iosif told her what would happen if she accepted him and became his symbiont. She says he told her that she “would become addicted and need him,” and, importantly, she says she was not yet addicted to him when he asked her to join him. When Brook agreed to become Iosif’s symbiont, it seems she was aware of what their relationship would be like. This appears to be a consensual relationship at least at its surface, but if we look at Brook’s current situation (what we’ve read up to today’s class, so Chapter 18) it seems clear that she never signed up for a lot of what she’s experiencing, so to speak. She knew that she would be addicted to Iosif’s venom and that she might die if he died, but as she says on page 161, “that seemed so impossible.” Had Iosif made her believe that it was extremely unlikely for him to die before she did? Probably – and yet, given what the text has told us, this is an extremely unlikely situation. When Brook agreed to become a symbiont, she had not known she would end up fighting for her life against attackers who wanted to kill Iosif’s daughter, but Iosif had no way of foreseeing this either. He did know that his family was involved in genetic engineering, and it is possible that he did not make Brook aware of this before she joined him, but how was he to know that there were Ina out there who hated his family for this? Perhaps it can be argued that Brook’s agreeing to become Iosif’s symbiont is a case of misguided consent since he did not share every bit of information about his life and his family’s life with her. I suppose in this matter, it is a question of how much a person is obligated to share with another person before they can make an informed decision to consent to a relationship or activity. How are we to know what we should share upfront and what we can save for later, especially in an unpredictable world where the smallest detail could end up changing your life? I could write another whole blog post about this, but for now I’d like to turn my attention to the relationship between Wright and Shori.
The relationship shared by Wright and Shori seems to represent a case of misguided consent. Wright knew he was consenting to a relationship with Shori when he refused to leave her on page 49. She offered him, “Freedom, Wright. Now or never.” Wright had no idea, though, that by staying with Shori he was committing himself to a relationship that he would find very unusual and difficult to be in. He had not known that he was agreeing to be part of an unbreakable bond with an Ina who would need other symbionts and a different mate altogether. What he was actually consenting to, then, was an entirely different thing than what he thought he was consenting to. Shori did say on page 48, “If you [leave] now, you can still go,” but she did not make Wright understand that he would actually be unable to live without her if he stayed with her. By the time Wright realized that his decision to stay with Shori was misguided and would change his life much more than he had anticipated, it was already too late as he was addicted to her venom.
It seems deceitful of Shori to let Wright become addicted to her without giving him a chance to agree to this kind of relationship or fully understand what he was getting himself into, but then, of course, she did not remember how her bites affected people at the time she met Wright. Brook reminds Wright of this on page 162: “That was probably because of her memory loss,” she tells him, which he follows by expressing that the matter still bothers him. I think Wright has every right (unintentional pun, ha) to be bothered by the fact that Shori let him become addicted to her without making him aware of what was going on or what was to come, even if she hadn’t known it herself. But then, she had no way of knowing about the things she should have made him aware of, just as Iosif had no way of knowing he would die before Brook did and leave her with such an uncertain future after his death. Shori seems to have tried to get Wright’s consent, at least to the things she was aware of, but Butler leaves us with the question – is Shori’s amnesia an acceptable excuse for enveloping Wright in this complicated relationship he now finds himself in, without having gotten anything but misguided consent from him before making it impossible for him to choose anything else?