Oct 222012

Noam Chomsky is perhaps best known for the book he wrote with Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent, also made into a wonderful film. They show how the mainstream media is used to manufacture political consent in purported democracies.

I’m interested in how consent is manufactured to other kinds of changes in our worlds. For example, biotechnology crops have been so widely introduced and with so little oversight, that we now hear that we are eating biotech food, without having consented to it. Organic corn has been contaminated. When the alternative has been destroyed, or is hard to find, “consumer choice” is a sham. Since it is a done deal, our deliberation and consent are made meaningless.

Airports are an interesting site for manufacturing consent to new technologies. Since we have already purchased a ticket and made plans to arrive somewhere, we find ourselves willing to submit to invasive security procedures that, would we consider them from the vantage of home, we might not accept at all.  Introducing retinal scans and other biometrics as a hurdle to a desire we have already committed to elides our considered judgment. Having submitted biometrics once, it’s a done deal. There is no point trying to withdraw consent later on.

Thus the airport is a powerful site for manipulation. It would be a convenient context to get people microchipped. Once you’ve bought the ticket, you will very likely voluntarily submit to anything the airline and attendant industries do to you on the way. The “option” to walk away and take the train is not really an option when people are waiting for you. The “choice” has been made so inconvenient, or remote from normal life, that it isn’t really a choice. So we consent.

But it suggests that consumership in general functions this way. Once our desire for something (to arrive somewhere, to use something) has been initiated, and the promise of having this thing is within reach, our critical functions are weakened, and the terms of condition of completing the transaction can say nearly anything. We will probably consent.