Columns / Discourse / October 28, 2010

Notes on: Coercion

In my previous articles, I’ve referenced coercion as a major player in the way our social system works. Coercion is defined as one party forcing another party, through violence or threats, to act in a way that is involuntary. The coercive forces present in our society are often a bit more veiled. The important questions are: who is being coerced? And: who is the coercer? How is this coercion being enacted?

The most apparent form of coercion would be physical actions taken by armed members of the state (or whatever is the dominant social being) against agitators and dissidents. This type of coercion generally occurs outside the public eye, the general public either being kept in the dark, misinformed or simply being apathetic to its occurrence. However, the simple presence of armed persons within the daily public sphere is a sort of premeditated coercion, where, combined with the surveillance apparatus of the state, creates a general atmosphere of fear that subdues dissention. This fear materializes in both a physical police state and in an invented, mythical sense of that police state where the perceived ability of the coercer, reinforced by social normalizations and doctrines, overpowers the general will of the dissenter.

Coercion is by no means simply physical, and unsurprisingly its most typical tactic is economic. The placement of resources in the hands of certain institutions creates a power structure in which persons are required to participate in a certain way to obtain life-sustaining goods. This economic power structure is often justified within the society by numerous institutions. As such, it becomes nearly impossible to separate the idea of economic and ideological coercion.

Media, and its entertainment affiliates, is the dominant ideological tool of these institutions. It assists in the subduing of the populace via false truths and useless imagery. It converts the natural desire to see progress in one’s community into consumerist apathy, driven by the myth that wealth is a step away and that the law is justified in a historical context.

Indeed, the strongest and most universally known coercive social apparatus are the concepts of law and the social contract. Law remains omnipresent; a being that exists as an extension of the state and justifies all of the states actions via a moral imperative. This imperative is often seen and argued as being synonymous with “order.” It requires that everyone be bound to it via a social contract in which a person subjects themselves to the power of that law in return for the perceived security of that law’s structure, which it maintains through coercive action against those who oppose the law or its state of operation. This dedication to law and “order” is based on the idea that without law and the state to enforce it, life would be, as Thomas Hobbes once said, “nasty, brutish, and short.”

The reality of the last century disproves this. The most horrifying and destructive wars, the greatest social upheavals and the largest gap between economic classes have all occurred in the last century under the strongest and most extensive coercive institutions the world has yet seen. Layer upon layer of reinforced ideology justifying economic inequality has led to the growth of the police state as a necessary element in preserving the existing order. But this order is a false one. It protects and serves only those who can profit, forgetting the rest as nothing but cogs.

Without the state, the economic structures that dominate the state’s operation and the livelihoods of its people would no doubt fall quickly to those unappeased cogs, the working masses.

Coercion is present in every level of society. It enforces cultural stereotypes and unjust systems in an attempt to create an atmosphere of fear, separation, mistrust and compliance. We mistake this compliance for security and, in doing so, have accepted and even justified a violent system that feeds off inequality, hierarchy and an institutionalized sense of normalcy.

Coercion is synonymous with being a bully, which stems from a traumatic distrust of others and of one’s self. Those who cannot envision a world without power apparatuses are those who do not know what it is to be free. Because they do not know what freedom is or that it is an inherent right given simply by birth, they reason that it is wrong for others to seek and embrace it. Thus law is born, and with that law, the necessity for the gun to enforce it.

Abraham Diekhans-Mears

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