One thing I and fellow Anarchists struggle with in conversations with any other modern day human is the tremendous social inertia that comes with the term “Anarchy.” While its simplicity is beautiful and its true definition is hidden in plain sight: “An”, “Archos” it’s simply a battle which isn’t worth fighting every time you engage in conversation in my opinion. Especially when it is a fight which is unnecessary and only happens due to either a romantic attachment to or a failing of useful alternative to the term “Anarchy.” I would like boldly to attempt to solve the latter problem. The first step to solving a problem is first to define it so let us start there.

When ensconced in one’s circle of Anarchist friends, the term can be thrown around handily and everyone understands and relishes its true meaning. It is a jarring interruption to this euphoria to engage in use of this term in just about any other circumstance. It is easy to forget how the world reacts to the word “Anarchy,” and I have many times been snapped out of my reality coma with haste and realized that the person looking at me is no longer listening to anything I am saying and backing away slowly because I prematurely threw out the “A” word.

This experience is likely familiar to every Anarchist. Despite the remarkable simplicity of the Anarchist argument in most cases, it can easily be unraveled by just calling it by its own name. There have been many studies done about human behavior and judgment. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink he, with study after study, put forward the argument that most judgments are preformed in people’s unconscious mind based on existing prejudice before the conscious mind even has time to engage. Advertisers have done tireless research about human biases and how prejudgment affects decision-making. After listening to one of The Great Courses series titled “How Ideas Spread presented by Jonah Berger, I realized how just using the word “Anarchy” can hinder the spreading of the ideas. He goes over how powerful these biases can be and the lengths to which advertisers go to use this psychological effect to their advantage while also ensuring that they don’t fall victim to its negative characteristics. Even though “Anarchy” can trace its roots back to some of the earliest recorded history, the term’s age has given its opponents thousands of years to muddle its true nature. The last century has brought even better tools to bear to achieve that end. Despite the patina of the philosophy true “Anarchism,” for 99% of the people you meet these are going to effectively be completely new political and economic ideas.

New ideas require people to approach them with as little bias as possible. If we are to be in the business of changing the minds of society, these are things we should consider. Another lecture from The Great Courses called “How We Learngoes into detail about how new ideas and skills are always built using the scaffold of prior knowledge. It is important when speaking with others to be aware as much as possible which scaffold you are building your ideas onto. Many of us have experienced, through trial and error mostly, many avenues to fail miserably at this task. These may include but are not limited to saying anything about the Federal Reserve, using the words laissez-faire, oligopoly, or collectivism.

I have learned a lot about this subject by studying hypnotherapy and its cousin NLP, neuro-linguistic programming. I do not practice any of these fields so please don’t ask me to hypnotize your friends and make them cluck like a chicken or cure your fear of heights (I do have friends who can help you with this though). I am, however, fascinated by its practitioners and it has made me more aware of its presence in media. My number one take home from hours of reading is that hypnosis is all about building rapport with your subject. Nothing you attempt will work without trust in you. Your first step in any conversation must be to make your subject comfortable and at ease. My catch phrase for this is: “In order to bring them into our world we must first enter theirs.” What makes this practice so difficult is we are self-centered beings. Luckily as a species we can, with any luck, develop empathy and this is what we must harness to be successful agents of change.

So what does meeting someone in his or her world mean? What does building rapport mean in a real scenario? It means using the language and acknowledging the thoughts and opinions of your subject. When building rapport, you should not expect the other to embrace your seeming misrepresentation of the “A” word. Also, pointing out that the other’s definition is indeed the misrepresentation won’t fly either. Seek common ground; it’s not that hard. Adjust your vocabulary to better cuddle up to the other’s intellect. If you don’t, you only confront a wall of preprogrammed bias and simultaneously establish yourself as a very distant variety of our species inhabiting a world very far from their own.

In the end what we really have with the word “Anarchy” is a terrible branding problem. Branding research is extensive. An interesting study mentioned in the How Ideas Spread lecture was one of two identical face creams were sold with two different brand names. Both had nonsense brand names. One sounded like an elegant face cream. The other was called something like “TicyTac.” TicyTac undersold the other by a significant margin. That makes sense. I wouldn’t put something called TicyTac on my face either. In this case we are dealing with only nonsense terms and there still exists a bias. When dealing with the “A” word we have not a nonsense word, but one well known with its popular meaning straight out of Thunderdome.

So if this is the problem, what’s the solution? Perhaps a new term to describe our viewpoint may be in order. A re-branding. One objection I’ve received to this proposal is, “why go to the trouble to create a new label?” It’s a valid point. Why not just shy away from labels entirely? Why not just make your arguments and let that be that. I think this is an option to try for sure BUT in my experience, people cannot help themselves. They have some compulsion to figure out what you are. I was in a rock band for over a decade and the most irritating question to get was, “Who do you guys sound like?” As much as I willed to never be asked that question, it would always come out. Just as with music genres, people want to categorize social/political genres as well. The problem is, most anarchists will not fit into any classic American political mold just as with my band, I could say “We sound like Radiohead/Coldplay/U2-ish,” though most importantly, we sound like ourselves. When discussing the ideas of Anarchy, if the conversation goes on long enough, at some point your counterpart will cock head and ask “So does that mean that you are… some kind of… Anarchist?” You can either lie, misdirect, start backpedaling, back-filling caveats or duck and dodge the Molotov cocktail already beginning to fly behind of the eyes of your new friend.

This problem is widely recognized and there have already been attempts at alternatives. The most popular is probably ‘Voluntarism’ or “Voluntaryism.” This is a fine adaptation. It is based on the idea that in a free society all interactions would be voluntary.

Well, problem solved! We’re done here. Not quite. The term has not really caught on and, in my personal experience, it has not served me particularly well. I think there are many reasons for this. First of all, it just is an awkward word. Going off of study the above paragraph (actual ideology aside) would you rather be a Voluntaryist or a Liberal. Or, a Keynesian for that matter which even has a nicer ring to it. Secondly, in keeping with language pre-bias what is it that most people think of when they think voluntary? Well, it is hard to say. Google says it means “done, given, or acting of one’s own free will.” Pretty straight forward but I think the term leaves the mind grasping a bit too much. Doing some non-scientific polling of my own I found that most people’s mind jump to the word “Volunteer.” When they hear ‘Volunartarist’ they may wonder if you enjoy serving food to homeless in soup kitchens or cleaning up alongside highways. Are you keen to putting out fires? What exactly are you doing or giving of your own free will? It is easily explained but the term, to me, lacks punch and I think it’s mostly the former aspect holding it back. Bottom line comes down to personal preference. I just don’t like it. So I’ve come up with something new.

I’d like to briefly add one thing. Even though this should go without saying, I’d like to preemptively point out that I am not expressing this as THE solution and you are wrong if you do X or Y instead of this. If you find the above and below arguments and ideas helpful to you, by all means use them. If you find it really bad or not worthwhile, by all means, carry on!

Origins: It’s no spoiler what my term is as it’s the title of the paper, so I’d like to share how this idea came about as briefly as possible. One of my jobs is as Stage Manager at a University Theater (yes [partially] state money… oh the shame). For 9 years I have worked every summer on the freshmen orientations that are held in the theater. It’s a real relaxing occasion and it hasn’t changed much over the past decade. This year, however, they added a new seminar in acknowledgment to our culture apparently being one of near constant rape. There is now a “Please don’t rape, rape is bad” session which is attended by men and women (I think). It’s actually not a bad seminar. It starts with a video which I have linked here.

This video is about consent. It defines consent and it gives an abstract example to illustrate several scenarios in which consent may be granted versus not granted when asking to borrow someone’s cell phone. As I watched this I thought, this could be a video about Anarchy if taken out of its current context of being a part of a sex education session. Indeed the whole lecture following it could have been. The video even calls the opposite of consent by name: coercion. It is a course essentially on how to identify the difference between consent and coercion. At first, one might think this was a presentation by Captain Obvious, but then one would stop and think for a moment longer about our society and realize that this lecture was probably quite helpful.

So it was there that I toyed with the idea of Consentism as … a thing. First, I Googled the term to see if anyone else had thought of this or if it was in use elsewhere. Zero hits. Then I bought the domains Consentism.org and Consentism.com (hopefully they won’t join my grotesque army of parked URLs). I started looking up definitions in my Black’s Law Dictionary and online for anything problematic. To date I’ve found none. So that’s the history. Here’s the argument in favor of adoption of this new branding strategy hopefully to help build a less coercive tomorrow.

Definitions of Consent:

Blacks Law –

Agreement, Approval or permission as to some act or purpose, especially given voluntarily by a competent person.

Google –

  1. Noun permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.
  1. Verb give permission for something to happen.

Preconceptions:

As mentioned before, the preconceptions that come along with the word are important when coining a spin off -ism. So I’ve looked into that as well. Of course it is almost entirely [today] related to sexual consent in the minds of most modern Americans. The header image of this article is a collage of some of the top images you’ll find for the term “consent” in Google Images. Rape is obviously a terrible thing to come to mind during your discussions… or is it? Mind you, as a Consentist, to any observer the first conclusion will be that you obviously oppose rape. Rape is very interesting from a moral philosophy standpoint since it is perhaps the only human act which is never justifiable, at least not in any normal society one would care to be a part of. Killing another is even justifiable if you are acting in self defense but you cannot rape in self-defense. This morally unambiguous topic, if your counterpart in the discussion takes it in that directions based on their assumptions, is not an entirely terrible springboard to broader subject matter since Anarchism is at root more of a philosophy of morality than of economics/politics. The bias toward these mental anchors which society has for the word “consent” means that you have a better chance of building upon someone’s moral and philosophical scaffolding rather than political/ideological. As most Anarchists are aware, our philosophy really is just an extension of how most of humans behave the majority of the time, peacefully and voluntarily, to the benefit of the broader society. So, again in my opinion, this is not a bad anchor point to have.

Also keep in mind that due to the culture of today, hundreds of thousands of students around the country are sitting through similar seminars and learning, in depth, the difference between consent and coercion. Some universities are even imploring male students to acquire written consent from female partners. Mass exposure to these concepts can lead to the easy unraveling of arguments like The Social Contract, which they obviously never consented to. All you must do is just help the subject connect the dots. In this atmosphere, it should be easy to access their world with conversations about consent and apply them to a broader society. The posters hanging around campus that read “Intoxicated does not equal Consent” can easily be rewritten as “Being born somewhere does not equal consent.” The only counter argument would be something like: “being born to rich white parents in a suburb of New York City he’s just asking for that tax bracket!!!”

Written into the libertarian favorite Declaration of Independence is the idea that the government derives its powers by the “consent” of the governed. At this point in history, it should be easier than ever (thanks feminists!) to communicate that we should be able to withdraw our consent to the immoral and destructive grip of codified, justified, and enshrined coercion in the same manner any person can withdraw consent with regard to one’s body (or realize that they never gave consent in the first place). A further advantage Consentism has over Voluntarism is that consent implies someone else initiating action against you—Voluntarism implies that you are the actor. This is a better fit to the philosophy of “No Rulers”, that is, no external coercive actors imposing their will.

Lastly, in our world we see how the powers that be use language to alter the character of an argument or idea. The word Anarchy suffers from an age old attack on its meaning. I don’t think that this attack is really currently underway in any active sense as the damage was done before our generation was alive. There are also unrecoverable terms like Communism, Fascism, and Socialism (making a comeback thanks to Bernie Sanders). These were once all acceptable things, even here in the USA. They also co-opt good terms like Liberalism and Conservatism. Furthermore, they engineer their terminology to be an argument in itself like “Environmentalism.” The assumption always follows as, if you are against ‘environmentalism’ then you must hate the environment! What kind of crazy person hates the environment which sustains him? Consentism could take a play from their book. It will prove, once it catches on, to be difficult to misconstrue a Consentist as someone who is a bad guy who wants to coerce you into something. If someone comes out against Consentism, an anti-consentist, well then… they must just be rapists! Changing the definition of an arcane word like ‘Anarchy’ over the course of millennia is one thing, but attempting to change the meaning of the word “Consent” with the haste needed to quell the coming wave of interest in ‘Consentim’ is quite another (call it hopeful thinking or… maybe hubris).

To sum this up, Anarchy, as a word, has too much baggage to get us anywhere. New ideas require easier avenues to infiltrate the hearts and minds of a greater portion of society. Burdening arguments with terminology bias is a needless waste of energy, not to mention it could make the difference between saving the world or not… maybe :). Other solutions to this problem have not found much large-scale implementation nor been found to be an altogether fabulous alternative to the term “Anarchy.”

Rebranding with the word Consentism has these bullet points going for it:

1) Widely recognized root word with heightened awareness in our current zeitgeist.

2) Existing societal anchors for the term are not unfavorable.

3) The term is difficult to misconstrue or shift in definition.

4) It has a pleasant ring to it that could create conversational interest, not a psychological block.

Thus far, my non-scientific preliminary trials have been successful. Everyone I’ve tested the term on (all statists, AKA average people) has said they felt the term to be a positive one — even before its meaning is described. No one has experienced any knee jerk reactions to the term. They all have been curious about what I mean when I say it. If you’re willing, try it out a couple times and let me know how it works out. We can go from there.

For more information please go to Consentism.org