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Age of Consent: A New Renaissance

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on June 26, 2020 15:37

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The political malaise of our age is amply illustrated by the present and ubiquitous call to action against the memory of slavery. And while I find the concept of slavery abhorrent, we should be aware that we might be distracted by fake arguments and lose sight of the core principle at stake — that of consent to be ruled.

One of my ancestors was a slave; others were slave owners. There is not much I can do about that, not even in a time when statues of slave traders are being pulled down and when memories of slavery are being expunged. I have written about slavery, and while I can understand the feelings against symbols of that horrible institution, I would rather see every memory, every monument, rededicated to the removal of the principles behind slavery, genocide and similar horrors. My concern is that energy is misdirected against symbols instead of structures of compulsion. 

Galileo Galilei, Renaissance man. Wikipedia Public Domain

We are living at the beginning of a new renaissance. The Black Death that decimated Europe in the 1300s ushered in a breakdown of rigid, ossified political and economic systems. Some monarchs and churches managed to hang on for some time, but new technology in the form of the printing press created a vision of a greater world, a Europe with common values, aspirations and dreams. We are, today, seeing a similar breaking of walls, of rigid systems of control. 

The Congo has just celebrated the end of a lethal epidemic of Ebola in the eastern provinces. While the country battles another Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka and the COVID-19 scourge, it is worth noting the words of Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. "It wasn't easy and at times it seemed like a mission impossible," she said. "One of the most important lessons . . . is the need to engage with, work with, enable communities to be knowledgeable, to be empowered to play their role in different ways."

In the fight against COVID-19, this principle is already apparent. Countries that sought the consent of its citizens in determining regulations, like New Zealand, showed remarkable success in keeping the disease under control. In South Africa, a Command Council handed down often illogical instructions leading to wide-scale disobedience. Rampant infections now rage.

South African Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu announcing control measures. Photo SA Government Communications and Information service

All tobacco and alcohol sales were banned, leading to court challenges and immense loss of tax income as users switched to illegal channels. Casinos were re-opened but museums are still off limits. Open-toe shoes may not be sold.

Friends disputed my claim about the straw-man argument between socialism and capitalism. The renaissance after the present plague will turn on whether citizens are ruled by compulsion or by consent. Policing by compulsion has brought us to the present wave of protest, but policing by consent is possible and efficient. Slavery was not only reprehensible, but it was also inefficient. Capitalist economies where monopoly corporations limit the choice of workers and customers by buying political parties are as inefficient as socialist economies where politicians enrich themselves while compelling citizens to a limited market. Politics by real consent is largely absent where politics are controlled by rigid careerist structures.

The Renaissance is and was about freedom from compulsion. 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on June 26, 2020 15:37

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More than 2,000 people died in an area where decades of conflict have led to widespread mistrust.

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