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The Landscape (yes, another landscape) of Personal and Social Coercion

I have had a failed attempt at re-rigging the functional components of my mobile recording studio to create a (technically speaking) listenable podcast. Luckily, the content was a detailed description of the graph below–pretty poorly conceived as audio content from the get-go.

A basic tactic I learned as an educator was to explain visual materials before actually presenting them, because once you show the picture, the students will be absorbed in looking at it at won’t listen to you. Looking back, it’s probably just a trick to substitute your own analysis for whatever the student would come up with on their own. If you feel oppressed by my pedagogical tactic, please go ahead and take a look.

This graph is intended to spatially represent the various combinations of the willingness to use coercion/violence[1] in the personal and social realms. Something that’s fascinated me since I began to explore alternatives to dominance based societies is the internal inconsistency in the relationship people have to coercion. It’s come up in a variety of recent incidents and I finally decided to take the time to sketch out this landscape.

I have encountered[2] people who are anti-state, but, for a number of reasons, continue to use the tactics of the state–including bullying, and even the threat of and use of violence–in their personal dealings.

Most frequently this is directed in ways that are, sadly, largely socially acceptable such as against their children. Often it’s directed against women and occasionally against those who challenge them in a social setting. I believe, perhaps naively, that this is usually a lack of introspection and that these aggressors are simply repeating learned patterns of human interaction. Unfortunately, that’s indistinguishable from the case where someone is in favor of statelessness in order to have the space to create their own personal oppressive mini-state.

Also in this category are the few folks that fall into the popular conception of anarchism: the bomb throwers and the would be assassins of corporate and political leadership. Of course, I’m not the last word on who is or isn’t an anarchist, but it is my graph, so I’ll do what I want.

The axis measuring the degree to which one is personally willing to aggress against another person is the horizontal on the graph. The positions I described in the previous paragraphs inhabit the lower-right quadrant.

The other internally inconsistent position, represented by the upper-left quadrant, holds that personal violence is abhorrent and has no place is civilized society. However, third party, “institutional” violence is required to enforce one’s personal preferences on “uncooperative” elements in society. This can range from the political libertarian’s conception of a state that monopolizes law courts and security/defense to the totalitarian’s utopian vision of a perfectly ordered and efficient human hive cooperatively building whatever world it is that the totalitarian prefers.

This tendency towards coercion in the social realm is measured on the vertical axis.

Click here or on image for enlarged version (opens a new tab)

The final two quadrants represent the internally consistent positions of anarchism and, for want of a better phrase, holistic authoritarianism. If you understand what I’m trying to capture in the positions described above, not much explanation is required for the remaining two. One other note: the spatial relationships between the positions is pretty arbitrary. For example, who further along the axis of using personal violence, a child abuser or a bomb throwing anarchist?

I may return to this graph in future posts/podcasts. It fits in with a number of topics that have been rolling around in my head lately. Of particular interest are the variants of the bottom-left quadrant, especially as we push towards the “origin” of the two axes. Here is the eventual future of humanity which has eschewed not just violence, but also manipulation based on “good” and “evil”; that does not ostracize, but rather seeks to understand unmet needs and to work cooperatively to integrate all of humanity (that seeks integration) into one big giant ball of love.

Of more practical and immediate interest are the interactions between the upper-left and lower-right quadrants: the people who cannot abide violence, but worry that, in the absence of centralized authority, the lower-right quadrant will reestablish traditional (a.k.a barbaric) gender/racial/parenting roles. And the people who bully and intimidate those around them and then can’t understand why the traditional victims of government seem so terrified of a stateless society.

I’ll leave it there for now. Whether you think I’ve missed the mark or that there’s not even a mark that I’m missing, I’d be interested in your feedback. If, for whatever reason, you want to modify or replicate the drawing, I’m happy to save you the 5 minutes it would take by sharing my existing copy with you.

Update:Wes Bertrand’s latest Complete Liberty podcast references a Kevin Carson article that points at the same inconsistency I’m interested in graphing. As always, a good read.

  1. [1] The specific definitions aren’t important to the graph. Personally I think there can be non-violent coercion, but I’m open to other positions.
  2. [2] Usually online, I am loathe to be around these people in person
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