Gregory Sams
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8. Legitimising Coercion

One of the great crimes of the state is that it has eroded our own natural repulsion to coercion as an acceptable behaviour mode for society. The legitimisation of coercion at the so-called top, because it is deemed necessary for the good of the people (that is, for the good of the state) percolates down throughout a society which looks to leaders "in charge of things" for a value system.

Let's face it - most of us are naturally repelled by coercive behaviour, by people threatening to hit us or damage us if we don't do what they want. And most of us also are programmed by our own society's culture, and perhaps by our own instincts, not to do things in this way. We prefer to request, purchase, trade, suggest or argue as our means to inter-relate with the rest of society. The ultimate act of coercion is that of killing another person and this, not coincidentally, is one of the most universal natural taboos found in different societies across the world.

People are not the killers of the world. It is the organized and rigid belief systems of the world which convince us that their righteous cause is greater than the value of our individual lives. The greatest tragedies of human history have been wreaked upon us by priests, leaders, politicians and nation states - not by the odd murderer arising out of ordinary society and killing a few people, or even a lot of people, before being caught. And it is likely that the majority of those killers who do arise in society received their initial training in a government uniform.
"The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations."

David Friedman
For the higher purposes of the state, coercion is now alright, and all of their instructions to us are backed by the threat to hit or damage us if we do not comply. Coercion is the basic stick of the state. Almost nothing the state does could be done without it. Let's take a quick trip through coercion and consider the consequences of its use in society. To "coerce" is described by Collins dictionary as "to compel or restrain by force or authority without regard to individual wishes or desires." The lion does not coerce the wildebeest into being his dinner - he just kills it and eats it.

How does the state use coercion on us? Using a simple example like a parking fine, let us say that you absolutely refuse to pay this ticket or spend time in the court process trying to prove, say, that the police had blocked your return due to a bomb scare. Anyway, no way are you going to pay sixty pounds, dollars or whatever to this uncaring and unresponsive state-sanctioned agency. Neither will you run and hide, accept losing your freedom and going to jail, or let anyone impound your car or in any way let them get your money. So what do they do? They will get your money, and they will coerce you into paying it; and assuming that you are a relatively sane person, you will abandon your determination and pay them.

Why? Because coercion ultimately means that if you are not willing to pay the fine or go to jail or run away you can be killed. Shocking isn't it? Of course they have bailiffs and ways of seizing your sixty whatevers before it comes to this; but if you really did not want them to get their fine money and had made it inaccessible or burnt it, then they would come to put you in prison. If you sought to successfully resist this, without going into hiding, then such a position would almost certainly end in your own death were the full force of the law applied, or they would get you into jail after all, but alive.

This is a simple example and an extreme case. Only a nutter would throw away his or her life over such a small thing. But that is what coercion is - in its rawest purest form coercion is the province of the armed forces, who make no bones about the principle that might is right. When a soldier or a mugger points a gun at you, you do what you are told because the gun is there, and not because you voted for him, or because he has the better logic or God on his side.

Many crimes involve coercion: when your property is stolen, or you are mugged, conned, or passed counterfeit money. Just about any crime with a victim has involved coercion. It seems reasonable that society should be able to use coercion back to capture and punish the criminals, if necessary forcing them physically to cease and desist their activities, maybe even killing them if they have killed. Organized coercion against these criminals by a police force may well be a moral and reasonable approach and may well work as a deterrent, but that does not mean that there are not better and more effective methods to deal with crime and its victims - methods that rely less, or not at all, on the use of coercion. I do not suggest that none of these methods exist today, but that many more would have evolved, had the state not claimed a virtual monopoly on defining crime and dealing with it for so long.

Our whole culture is permeated with coercively backed laws and regulations that do not in fact protect anyone from the dangers described above. Here coercion is used to make us drive safely, build according to council wishes, register new-born children with the state and many other simple things. Coercion and disregard for personal liberty are the essence of the tax-collecting laws. Despite all the laws that supposedly protect us from crime, only the tax collecting laws were strong enough to arrest Al Capone, the clever and arrogant gangster of America's early Mafia. What does this tell us of the state's priority?

Even on the level of a small nuclear family or an extended clan, the constant imprint from the state that purports to govern us all, is that coercive techniques are alright when special interests, including that of the "common good," are at stake. Parents may well come to regard their families as mini-states, to be run accordingly with punishments and much use of coercive "training." I am not objecting to or directing how families should raise children, since experimentation here is a part of the evolutionary process and parents have near total power over their children in the fundamentally important early stages of their lives. Because the universe tends to create successful organisms we have a good basic programming and most of us would naturally shrink from using coercive techniques when infants and children are involved. This is why kids around the world get away with a lot more than adults.

However, taking their example from the state, many parents will either overcome or ignore their inner programming and force and threaten and sometimes beat their children into submission "for their own good." Though we may not be trained psychologists most of us know the results of this approach. We can take encouragement from the many instances where individuals have been able to overcome, learn and grow stronger after exposure to some pretty nasty treatment.

Because coercion - forcing people to do things - is so much at the core of the state structuring of society it becomes easier for the petty or the highly organised thief to rationalise his or her actions by comparing them to the morality of the state and recognising that even greater crimes are being committed by those who are called leaders but are in fact self-interested rulers. When the Mafia demands protection money from a restaurant they are doing just what the taxman does, and may in some cases be giving better service for it and demanding less.

When a lawbreaker bribes a policeman, as can happen all over the world, they acknowledge that they both operate within the same flawed moral framework. When a businessman bribes a politician in order to generate unfair preferential legislation, they are being enticed into dishonesty by the coercive facilities of the state. Waste, corruption and inefficiency on many levels continually permeate state and state related activities - what does this tell us about the mechanism they are using?

Coercion is, simply, the big divide. With it as the basic enforcing mechanism, society's natural evolution is warped and distorted. Coercion disregards the feedback loop. The state cannot survive without coercion and we cannot successfully evolve with it. As bad as big business can sometimes be, it does not use the coercive mechanism UNLESS it is using the state as its agent.* The basic remit of any business, big or small, is to perceive and deliver products to us that we want. If they spend money seeking to convince us we want that product, then so be it - that money goes into society's pockets too and is ultimately redistributed among us. It pays for most of our newspapers, TV and radio. If we pay for a product from business and it is a bummer we are not coerced into buying it again next week and the month after and the year after that until, at election time, we get the big opportunity to choose another supplier for that same product that we do not want.

*Unfortunately, an increasing number of corporations do get involved in the processes of the state. See Chapter 20: The State of Business.

We must recognise that coercion is not a viable mechanism for change. In the long term it always produces negative results. That we think coercion to be a traditional and natural way to run the world of "men" is a frightening situation. The ingrained and often gratuitous use of coercion by states around the world has, simply, made it easier for individuals to rationalise away their own violent or oppressive behaviour and overcome many of the natural strictures that evolution and society would otherwise place upon us. This is why we must not, in our minds, legitimise coercive behaviour as acceptable despite the fact that our so-called leaders use it as their stock-in-trade. Look into history and see where it got them.
"The end move in politics is always to pick up a gun."

Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983)
"An apt and true reply was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride. "What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor."

St. Augustine, The City of God (354 - 430 A.D.)
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