For some time, I have found myself to be deeply troubled by the implications of the contemporary hostility towards coercion that has made itself plain in language and culture. Few people would doubt, for example, that rape is a horrible offense and a great many people would not think any punishment or suffering to be too harsh for those who have committed rape against others, and many people would even justify second-order repercussions for those who enable rapists to get off easy for the offense, like judges giving rapists a slap on the wrist for something that can cause lifelong damage. My own personal thoughts are that rape should be enforced with the biblical punishment of death to the rapist, but I am aware that such a punishment has been considered unconstitutionally harsh by the Supreme Court. Be that as it may, what our contemporary culture has seen has not only been a much harsher attitude towards this particular crime but also an expansion of the horror to things that are not strictly the forcible sexual assault of someone but things that are murkier and less clear.
For example, earlier this week a study was reported that claimed that the number of women that had been raped was far higher than 1 out of 6 (itself a harrowing enough number), with rape defined as any sex that came about because of threats and verbal pressure or anything that was later regretted. To be sure, a great many people likely regret their past sexual experiences for one reason or another. Besides cases where people cannot or do not actually consent to sex, there are a great many reasons where sexual intimacy would be regretted after the fact–one’s feelings about one’s partner changes, one feels manipulated and pressured, and one finds out that intimacy is not nearly as enjoyable in temporary and disposable relationships as one had thought. Such regret may be felt by men as well as women–both men and women have tended to nag and manipulate their partners for what they want, and both can feel regret about the way that they can feel trapped in unsatisfactory relationships yet feel honor bound or otherwise tied to others whom they neither respect nor love. And there have no doubt been many men who have been pressured to live up to a standard of honor by marrying those women they have gotten pregnant, for example, and have regretted the souring of marital relations based on an absence of virtue and restraint on either side.
Some commentators have noted that there are unsettling implications with the expansion of the term of rape to involve such situations. I agree, for example, that the implications of a term like power rape would tend to delegitimize many of the ways that men have sought to attain success in love and relationships by using money or offices of authority to make themselves more attractive as romantic partners than they would be on the strength of their own limited charm and personal attractiveness throughout history as well as in the present day. To the extent that coercion itself is viewed as illegitimate, it is wrongful for someone to use their personal or positional authority to subtly coerce others into fulfilling one’s own longings for sex and intimacy. But such implications go well beyond this, so as to make any sort of attempts to seduce or persuade potentially illegitimate. And without seduction or persuasion or increasing one’s own power as a way of pulling others within one’s orbit, there are very few ways that people can legitimately seek love and intimacy. Likewise, if persuasion and seduction are to be illegitimate when it comes to sexuality, are they going to be equally legitimate when it comes to selling cars or marketing anything? What about the attempt to convince people they are wrong when it comes to political or religious matter? Is that sort of talk to be viewed as being rape-like and therefore horrifyingly illegitimate as well?
Indeed, it is little surprise that some car dealerships have sought to move to a no-haggle approach by which cars are treated like any other product with a retail price that is a fair price that customers are expected to pay because of the increasing displeasure that people have with haggling and the view of such discourse as coercive and illegitimate. Among the consequences of this would be to make those who would engage in bargaining or haggling behaviors (such as, for example, the normal discourse in the Middle East) as a particularly aggressive and coercive and unpleasant lot of people, which is likely only to increase the cultural gap that exists between cultures with different standards for communication. If bargaining and countering other people’s objections with counterobjections (which has been viewed pejoratively as mansplaining or whitesplaining, but which can be done by anyone) is viewed as illegitimate, then there is little room for civil debate because such discourse always involves people seeking to reframe things and countering our expectations and our understanding. If we view our own perspective as absolute truth which cannot be questioned by others, anything which wishes to correct us or redirect us or question us is going to be viewed as unacceptable coercion.
Yet those people who feel the most sensitively about such matters have not ceased their own attempts to correct others or to use the authority of governments and offices to enforce their own views on everyone else, nor have they ceased to express their own disapproval about the way that certain others think or believe or behave. Such hypocrisy is transparent, but it is also widespread. If correction and attempts at persuasion and response are coercion and if all coercive speech or action is illegitimate, then we can properly not show hostility or disapproval to anyone’s speech or conduct, nor attempt to shape anyone else’s beliefs or behavior in any fashion. The only permitted speech in such a situation is either that speech which refers to ourselves and that speech which gives attaboys or attagirls to those people speaking about their experiences and their feelings and their opinions and their views. No criticism or correction of any kind is to be granted legitimacy whatsoever. Again, one can see this sort of tendency coming to pass where people are increasingly unwilling to accept correction or discipline or to tolerate disapproval or disagreement. The result is an increasing use of silence and avoidance to shape our interactions in such a fashion that no such disapproval or disagreement needs to be voiced, but in such a fashion that greatly limits our own interactions with others and our own regard or affection for others.