I have belonged to two groups of women… lesbians in the 1980’s and early 90’s… and midwives in the 2000’s… who swore by consensus, believing it was the way to run a group. A definition is important. Governing by Consensus is when everyone in the group has to agree with the topic at hand or the issue is not finished/closed/settled until everyone does agree. This means that in a group of 1000 people, if one person disagrees, then the solution offered does not pass muster.
Until that last person agrees.
If the last person never agrees, the subject is tabled for another time. Usually until the last person leaves the group or keels over.
I am not a fan of consensus. I’m just too skeptical to believe everyone in a given group is altruistic enough to really listen to the issue at hand and leave their own egos out of the equation in order to find a conclusion to a problem. That would be because I have been around enough people in these groups who get off on being contrary and don’t give one whit about the group as a whole or even the pieces parts (the others) in that group. Instead, they have a life goal of annoying people, seeking attention and wreaking havoc wherever they are.
I’m a majority rules kinda gal. The feminist separatists reading/listening to this are shrieking, “That is so patriarchal!” Whatever. Majority rules works whereas consensus does not.
For example, I was part of the San Diego Lesbian Press Collective in the late 80’s/early 90’s. A “collective,” pretty much by definition, is governed by consensus. The politics of the lesbian community during that time was extremely separatist… men were persona non grata to the lesbians. Now, I had 2 male children so was immediately suspect, but they let me into the collective because they needed writers and I can write some good controversial shit.
The Press was always needing money. Finding advertisers was a never-ending job for some of the womyn (spelled w-o-m-y-n) in the group. Thankfully, all I had to do was write.
That was until a potential advertiser came along who happened to be a MAN, then I was required to attend the collective meetings.
This MAN was going to be a major advertiser, affording the Press to go for at least a year without begging others for money. But, his being a man… using money that a man made… was a serious breach of the way the Press worked.
But some wimmin (w-i-m-m-i-n), myself included, felt okay about accepting the dude’s money because it would mean the Press could stay operational for a long time and our (collective) lesbian voices would be spread further and wider. Many others, of course, did not agree.
So, discussion ensued.
I committed to abstaining from the beginning, but was required to listen to the discussion lest I not understand what I was abstaining to. Therefore, I began the interminable task of listening to the back and forth of why we should take the man’s money or why we should not.
In the beginning, the arguments were typical and have already been mentioned… we could operate for another year without worry and we could have our message spread further and wider. But the “discussions” began to get heated.
“Talking about a man at all is polluting our environment!” So we moved outdoors so the Universe could absorb the negative energy of the masculine discussion.
(You think I am kidding. You would be wrong.)
“MEN have so much ANGER wrapped into their money-making! I don’t want that energy anywhere near our paper.”
(Never mind the really loud, and not always polite, discussions occurring at that very moment.)
You also might be thinking this meeting would have been a couple of hours long. One would have hoped, yes. But, this topic was a couple of hours long, carried over, every week, for THREE MONTHS.
It was worse than that tennis match feeling, watching ideas lobbed over a net only to be returned nearly identically a few moments later. I lost count how many times I said, “I abstain.”
It was clear the issue was becoming desperate when creative ways were developed for how to accept the money even though he was a man. My absolute favorite was that he give the money to his wife and she be the one to gives us the money out of her bank account. Seriously. This was a topic of discussion. FOR WEEKS.
There never was consensus on what to do. The lesbian separatists refusing to give in to THE MAN and those with more mission-minded thoughts knowing that, in order to keep going, we needed that money. Because there was no consensus, the money was not taken and the San Diego Lesbian Press folded a mere two months after the end of the discussion.
See? It should have been majority rules… they might still be in operation today.