Coercion All The Way Down

I have commented before concerning the issue of coercion as well as coercive logic in a variety of circumstances.  When I started writing this blog, I did not think that coercion would be such a big part of my beat as a writer.  To be sure, my blog is titled Edge Induced Cohesion, and inducement is itself coercion, so in some respects coercion was a part of the beat from the beginning, but I did not realize this at the beginning.  Sometimes we are led into examinations beyond our expectations and conscious planning.  Nevertheless, it did not take very long for my blogging to enter into area where the question of coercion and consent were of vital importance.  For example, my blogging on the question of rape and the way in which certain institutions have made its committing easier and its reporting more difficult is certainly one of the more pointed aspects of this coercion that I write about on a somewhat regular basis.  Likewise, coercion directed against the helpless, be it child abuse or abortion, has also always been a part of the beat of this blog given my own personal history and sensitivities.  The issue of coercion has even come up when I have examined the question of plea bargaining and stipulations in court scenes I have witnessed personally as well as the way in which skunks become pregnant.  Coercion is a surprisingly fertile area for study.

At its most fundamental level, coercion is the practice of persuading someone to do something using force or threats.  It is the stick in the carrot and stick means of motivating beings to do certain things that is so commonly used with people and animals.  Synonyms for this include pressuring, arm-twisting, intimidating, enforcement, and so on.  It is remarkably common.  Any time someone undertakes a good cop, bad cop routine, the bad cop is engaged in coercion.  This would be easier for people to admit if coercion didn’t have such a negative reputation.  In fact, anyone who is pressured or pushed to do something that they are reluctant or unwilling to do can have a good case to claim that their behavior was coerced and that it was not done entirely freely.  This may be compared with behavior that is induced in a different fashion, namely through bribes and other blandishments, that indicates the route to encouraging behavior that otherwise might not be forthcoming through fraud and other dishonest means, which is the carrot of the carrot and stick means of motivation.  As many human beings are fairly easy to threaten and as the use of force is an obvious means by which unscrupulous people, by no means limited to what is considered the criminal class, seek to influence others, a lot of behavior in this life is coerced.

Yet while we tend to think of coercion merely as occurring in dark alleyways by people with suspiciously Sicilian accents, or by cops delivering beat downs to people of the criminal class, coercion is a frequent aspect of daily life even for those of us who have little or no potential of ending up on any criminal radar.  Indeed, coercion finds its way embedded into a lot of behavior that we find ourselves involved in when we are at our most vulnerable, namely as consumers and employees.  As consumers, for example, it is commonly held that the receipt is an adhesion contract (and this is certainly true as well for all of those terms of service that we agree to without reading) that binds us by certain terms written by a company that are written, of course, to favor the company.  The same is also true when a company demands of its employees, for example, that all disagreements be solved through arbitration via a process that is designed to favor the employer rather than provide justice or due process.  The same is also true when one deals with family court in scenarios where women are obviously favored over men, and where issues of truth and justice are ignored in place of raw power being used to support what are claimed to be vulnerable identity groups.  And so it goes.  Our lives are filled with coercion, sometimes coercion that wears a suit and tie and speaks in a reasonably friendly manner, but where the intimidation is present even if it is done through legalistic means.

It is an open question whether our society could exist without the threat of coercion.  Certainly the issue is in enough doubt that the powers that be are unwilling to test whether or not this is the case.  I happen to live in an area where there are a great deal of semi-professional leftist agitators who are unwilling to let any opportunity for them to flex their coercive muscles to waste to demonstrate to city hall the strength of reflexive progressive opposition to anything approaching moral conduct or good sense in government and society.  Every interaction between estranged spouses, between pedestrians and beat cops, between agents of corporate authority and those who have some reasonable suspicion that they have been or are being or are about to be screwed over, and numerous other types of interactions are colored with the question of coercion. Do we lean on our power, formal or informal, to pressure others into doing what we wish?  Then we are coercing them.  Even the presence of power, without the overt threat of its use, can make other people feel as if they are being threatened and coerced even when this has not been directly stated.  It is not merely that the powerful coerce the weak, or that elites coerce ordinary people or that companies coerce their employees and customers.  To be sure, all of this happens.  But when people feel that they have been coerced for too long, they too seek the means of coercion by which they can coerce those who have oppressed them.  We seek safety through acquiring the power by which we can make life uncomfortable for others, and to the extent that we obtain this power in some fashion and in some realm, we have become coercive people ourselves, getting what we want through threats, including the threat of lawsuit.

In many ways this ubiquity of coercion is evidence of a lack of trust.  But how are people to show themselves trustworthy?  To behave in a noncoercive fashion is to make oneself vulnerable to coercion because one does not have or does not use the power of self-defense.  Even such a generally peaceable and friendly person such as myself has a great deal of coercive power, which is likely recognized by many of the people around me, simply because it is widely known that I write about my thoughts and experiences and what is bothering me, and that threat of having unpleasant words or deeds publicized through my writings is itself a coercive threat, namely the threat of exposure and embarrassment.  That threat is enough to make at least some people uncomfortable about their interactions with me, even if it is not a threat I tend to consciously use against others.  But when one has power, one does not need to consciously use it.  It is bad form if someone is continually making verbal threats against others, and a sign of weakness to boot, since it invites others to challenge the threatening person to put up or shut up.  The mere knowledge that this power exists and that the person is not afraid to use it by having personal experience observing or suffering from this power is usually enough for it to exert a coercive influence on others.  And so even such a person as I am, with at best ambivalent to hostile feelings towards coercion, am just as much implicated in the use of coercion as anyone else is.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Coercion All The Way Down

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    It takes constant self-examination to make certain that we are not unconsciously manipulating or coercing others to think or do what we want. We often think of bullies when it comes to this subject, but these things can be very subtle. Coercion cannot be mistaken for open, honest and well-reasoned exchange of ideas and opinions. It crosses the line.

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