Consent or Compulsion

Since the beginning of the semester, we have touched upon the topic of consent on various occasions, and it has been consistently brought up during our discussions of Butler’s Clay’s Ark. While separated into small groups, I have come across the debate about the relationship between the infected individuals and consent. Aside from the lack of consent to when the infected infect others, Adaeze asked whether we thought the infected themselves give consent to the organism itself. She inquired that if we shift perspectives, the infected themselves are consenting to the organism to take over their body and direct their actions. Most of our group supported the argument that Eli and the others were indeed giving consent towards the organism by giving into what the organism is urging the infected to do. They justified their point by referring to the fact that the infected are capable of controlling themselves to infecting only when need be which is how Blake, Rane, and Keira became unfortunate victims to such circumstances.

However, I think otherwise. Although I can see how giving into such impulses could be viewed as giving consent, I believe there’s a line that can be drawn between consenting to fall under the organism’s desires and acting upon a compulsion. As a parallel, I would like to draw a comparison to OCD. MedlinePlus defines OCD as this:

            Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), and behaviors that drive them to do something over and over (compulsions).

Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts. But this only provides short-term relief. Not doing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety and distress.

I remember when I watched a video of slam poet Neil Hilborn who spoke about his OCD and how he met a girl who appreciated his compulsion to lock and unlock the door 18 times or turn the light on and off and on and off and on and off. When she left him however, he  was so stricken that he was able to ignore his compulsion to undergo this repetitive behavior and leave the door unlocked as well as leave the lights on. Let me clarify where I’m going with this. So Neil Hilborn acts upon these compulsions due to these obsessive thoughts of “You must lock the door. Now unlock it. Now lock it again.” until he is certain that he is safe within his home. In a way, I feel that this is how the infected feel as well. Although there are moments in which they can control it, there are also instances in which the infected can’t help it but act upon how the organism programs them to do so. As an example, early on in the book, Eli mentions how he somehow survived the aircraft crash and pressed on to survive. “The ship had died, the three people he had come to love most had died with it to prevent the epidemic he had probably just begun. He should have died with them. But of the four, only his enhanced survival drive had saved him – much against his will” (Butler, 480). He didn’t want to survive, but the organism had other plans with him.

So this makes me raise the question: when the infected do act upon what the organism wants, is it simply that they consented to the organism’s directions or is it the body’s compulsions towards such actions? Eli is clearly still trying to hold onto his remaining humanity of resisting what the organism demands of his body but does that mean his humanity disappears when he does infect others? What do you think?

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