Quora is a social media website where people ask and answer all sorts of questions.
I started to write a response to a seemingly simple six-word question. But every point I wanted to make required an in-depth explanation. Since the theme fits, I decided to share my article-length response here.
What is An Ideal Society Like?
Consent is the secret to an ideal society.
All societies and all groups should be made up exclusively of consenting members. That means each individual member chooses to join and is free to leave.
Consent means respecting each individual’s right to say no. No one can do anything to your body without your permission.
On this one foundational principle, the most peaceful, prosperous, fair, and free society humanly possible would flourish.
There is only one law needed in this society:
Every individual person has the right to exclusive control over what they do with their body, and what happens to it. Therefore, each person must acquire consent before taking any action that would violate this right of others.
Cleary this outlaws slavery, murder, rape, and assault.
But it does not rule out self-defense. Since anyone who is attacking you is violating your body, you are free to respond by protecting your autonomy. You are free to defend your right to give or withhold consent.
But this would also rule out theft, fraud, and destruction of property.
But where does property come from?
If the only rule in society is that you must gain consent before affecting others, why would you have property rights?
Property is actually quite natural in a society that requires consent.
Consent is just another way of saying you have exclusive ownership over your own body. Only you get to decide what happens to this core “property.” You own yourself.
By extension, you own what you produce.
But to produce, you need resources.
Simply claiming a resource is not enough to make it your property. You can’t just lay claim to all that you survey.
You must also use it. You have to mix the resource with your labor in order for it to become your property.
Otherwise, you would be stopping others from using a natural resource. And that would violate their freedom of movement, another right that stems from self-ownership.
But when you put your labor into using or improving the resource, it becomes your property.
Finding an apple tree in the forest does not make the apples your property.
Picking the apples from the tree does make the apples your property.
Because you have melded your labor with the natural resource.
Labor involves using your body. So anyone who takes the products of your labor without your consent is violating your body.
It is like they took the labor itself; as if someone forced your body to do that work for their benefit.
So let’s say you have discovered gold on unclaimed, unused land. You dig a hole, you haul out the raw gold, you cart it back to your house, and you extract the gold.
If someone was to steal that gold, they are not just taking a resource, they are also taking your labor that went into producing it. That means they have used your body to work for them, without your consent.
This same foundational principle of consent ensures that all property is acquired without harming others.
But what if…?
Of course, you could get into hypotheticals which would make it tough to clearly determine who was the first to a resource and the exact definition of use.
Can I own a wooded ten-acre yard parcel that I only use to stroll around?
But these are questions for society to answer. It is up to society to define the expectations of the people in the society.
So in New York City, it will be harder to justify exclusive ownership of a 10 acre strolling grounds.
But in the middle of the wilderness? There is no shortage of areas to stroll. So it is not unreasonable for your presence alone to justify your ownership of those 10 acres.
But perhaps that society also deems it not a violation of your property for someone to peacefully stroll through your undeveloped woodland.
If I choose to live in an offshoot of society with houses close together, can I play music that can be heard on my neighbor’s property? Yes, because of reciprocity. I can hear my neighbor start his car from my property, so it evens out.
But can I blare music at 2 am? Can he rev his muffler-less Harley at 6 am?
Well, it is up for society to decide. And if you don’t like what society decides, you are free to choose another one.
The best bet would be to join a society with similar ideas, an agreeable culture, and clear rules.
You would be part of the market for society. Shop around for the best society, or create your own with like-minded people.
Not everyone in a society has to agree…
A society based on individual consent could peacefully incorporate multiple distinct societies.
People could come and go between societies as they please, as long as they follow the rules of whatever society they are voluntarily entering.
One society might decide that littering on someone’s law is a serious violation, while another society may consider it quite minor.
But those rules themselves could also not violate consent. “Society” could not violate your right to self-ownership based merely on a majority vote, or “the greater good.”
You don’t have to agree with all the rules of a society. You could voluntarily agree to abide by certain rules if you decide the benefits you get from that society outweigh the negatives.
No one could force you to join a particular society either. But neither could you force a particular society to accept you.
But remember, your right to property means you can always carve out your own personal sanctuary, with your own rules. You can form a society of one if you wish.
A society doesn’t have to be clustered in one location.
Such a society would not have to be geographically based.
Imagine a remote piece of land in the wilderness, where just a couple lives with their dogs. There is no one else around with whom to form a society.
Maybe they like it this way. Or maybe they join an online society instead.
They may be motivated to join a distributed society based on mutual aid. For instance, they may pay dues to a society, and in return, have a safety net if anything ever went wrong.
You could compare this to voluntary taxes, or an insurance company.
You could choose your society based on what kind of benefits you want from a society.
Sometimes these benefits will be based on geographic location, and sometimes they will not.
A society based on consent is ideal because: