Inherent Societal Non-Consent and Identity

The social contract we, as humans born into a Lockean society, live through is inherently non-consensual. Before birth, society has already established this social contract that we do not agree to until we become cognizant of said social contract—for some, this may be in high school and for others college. The assumption I just made was also made through a privileged power structure—there are many people living in our society today that have not attended high school or have had a formal secondary where they would have come in contact with the social contract—and they may not be educated on theories by Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, or other “Enlightenment” thinkers. I put “Enlightenment” in quotes because many of those authors may not explicitly outline the non-consent in their theories—what are they actually enlightening for us? Regardless of this, we are not consenting to live under this social contract until we are old enough to understand it, and by then I think for many of us (at least for me, when I first encountered this in high school) the social contract is taught as a fact/founding principle of this country that we just accept. There is a compulsory agreeance in the non-consensual social contract. Personally, this comes across to me as propaganda—we are led to blindly elevate the social contract as the ultimate form of democracy—and have even fought wars and instilled political figures to further our own “democratic” political agenda.

In the handout from class today (October 16th) the section on Rousseau reads “[s]ome human beings come to dominate others, denying them the equality they enjoyed in the state of nature” (Mills) (emphasis is mine). This brought questions to my mind of language and power structures. Are we separated from animals (and the state of nature) by our ability to use complex language? In our current state, we cannot exist in a system outside of language, and even in theoretical arguments about such we still use language to construct them. Language and power structures/inequalities play on each other and are deeply intertwined—by nature itself, the power structures we spout everyday would then be nonconsensual as well, because we use coded language without explicitly being cognizant or agreeing to these power structures.

My point in saying this is that all of the things we are born into, socialized to believe/perform, etc.—all are non-consensual. There is compulsory masculinity and femininity, compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory ethnic and race identity, compulsory gender identity, compulsory class, etc. This is not to say that we can’t push back against this, and this is perhaps what Butler is getting at. Maybe Butler is trying to show us the inevitability of non-consent in the society we live in today, but in a more idealized society, we might not have to be born into all of this non-consent. That being said, being born in and of itself is inherently non-consensual, and language itself, the tool we use for communication, is rife with inequalities. Maybe the point is that we can’t completely free ourselves from non-consent, but we can do our best to mitigate it.

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