The discussion of accountability and consent in anarchist and collective groups is very interesting to me. The groups are loosely organized groups that tend to impose few, if any, rigid structures and processes. Much of the point of these groups is to resist strict ways of being and supporting the safe exploration of ways to relate, live and engage. It is a set up that flat out resists explicit rule making. So when a group is confronted with an issue such as sexual assault it’s not entirely clear how the group and its members will and should respond. In a sense it provides a bit of a behavioral experimental playground much more so than more commonly organized groups of people.
In the specific case of sexual assault in these loosely connected groups the situation can be very complicated. The group doesn’t want to operate with well established rules that are marketed into its members. The group also doesn’t want to appeal to some moral or behavioral authority outside of the group. So there’s a real conflict in figuring out what exactly anyone is accountable for and what behavior to reinforce or extinguish. In some sense the lack of established processes and rules forces any conflict to always have reactive approaches rather than preventative. This doesn’t make it wrong or bad or ineffective. Consent and accountability isn’t necessarily dealt with well in a dogmatic rule enforcing set up. Often overly explicit ruled organizations create behavioral associations to following the rules rather than being attentive to others values, perspectives and personal comfort. So how should we think about consent? and respond to offenses?
The essay in IMPASSES “exploring critiques of the accountability process” mostly focuses on a synthesis and response to two pamphlets about accountability in anarchists groups. Presumably these pamphlets and others like them came about in response to specific challenges to accountability within the group. So I’m coming to my interpretation of the essay from both the context of the group’s possible issues and the general points the essay is trying to make.
The essay synthesis focuses a lot of energy on questioning the prevailing language used in accountability situations – that is situations where there needs to a response to some abuse. The author of the essay wants to resist any adherence to judicial or government like processes to organize people. I feel this is in general a useful intellectual approach. The fact is a resistance driven approach to living isn’t authentic if in the face of some adversity resistance is dropped and a person or group reverts to dogmatic or traditional approaches.
I believe the author is also justly critiquing these essays as giving in way too easily to common notions of victimhood and perpetrator and guilt and innocence. The world is vastly more complicated than most of our society’s media, processes and government admits.
The idea of consent is complex. And consent is a central component of identifying abuse and obviously possible healing behavior. Relating to each other in any open way requires a lot of listening and a lot patience. Often we don’t know our own rules and boundaries until they have been crossed. In some sense developing a sense of consent and vocabulary for communicating consent takes a willingness to approach and cross boundaries.
Values come about this way – one learns what behavior is reinforcing by behaving and experiencing consequences. The confusing part is that it can be extremely difficult to understand when a response to a behavior is a negative or positive reinforcer.
Even when rules are explicitly stated the ideas of consent and abuse are murky. The fact is whether we state rules or not we all are operating under a set of internal rules and values. These aren’t unchangeable laws but they are patterns of operating we’ve learned through consequences to our behavior. These rules can be hard to articulate but we all know when we’ve had one of our own rules broken.
The main challenge in any relationship is one of communication. The issue of consent or rather avoiding abuse is discovering rules before they are violated. The challenge the essay takes on is what should we do in reaction to an abuse. In particular, how should we handle things such to create more suffering by anyone in a process of healing and resolution. My interpretation of most common processes provided in schools, society, etc is that they are woefully simplistic and formulaic and focus far too much, as the author suggests, on defining things into victimhood and guilt. Typically in society once we can direct blame, accurately or not, our processes end. Unfortunately these approaches do not heal and increase perspective.
There’s is a ton of interesting research and literature on punishment and punitive approaches to society. The works of B.F. Skinner are worth a read. There’s also a great collection of essays under the book title “Beyond the Punitive Society” that are worth a browse. I point some of this material out because I think these materials get to the heart of consent and responsibility and accountability much more so than this essay in IMPASSES.
America is very much a punitive culture. From how we discipline our children to our judicial system to our religious views almost all processes we engage in for conflict resolution are punitive. It’s efficient, I suspect… Or it feels like it is. Oddly though it does not appear to be effective long term. Positive reinforcement (not the pop psyc positive mental attitude) is by far more effective. No person who violates a rule does so because they are evil or in isolation is a bad person. In this regard I side with the author of the essay in a search for better way to think and talk about accountability and consent and to not give into established approaches that don’t appear to be that effective in creating a safe, open culture.
I do hope the author(s) of the essay publish more about what they uncover. The world has far too few discussions about fundamental and powerful concepts like consent.