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Coercion

Discussion in 'The Philosopher' started by Death Aflame, Jan 14, 2011.

  1. Death Aflame

    Death Aflame voice of dissent

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    I just recently finished reading a book called The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture can't be Jammed and it got me thinking about coercion in a way I've neglected in the past. This topic is to explore the role of coercion in a just society, whether it be a theoretical ideal or a contemporary/historical reality.

    If any of you have followed my more political posts here you may have noticed a trajectory in my development. Initially I would have described myself as a moderate statist social democrat. A relatively mainstream position that sees the state as a just entity that ought to be used to correct market failures, protect rights, keep the power of private organizations in check through the rule of law. At some point I rejected the state socialist position for anarchy, more positively described as libertarian socialism, the libertarian left and perhaps most specifically mutualism. One of the reasons for the transition in ideology, from authoritarian to libertarian had to do with coercion. I began to see means and ends as inherently linked, which lead me to a general rejection of coercion as a justifiable method of correcting injustice in a given social system. Instead, I embraced the idealism of mutualist anarchism, an ideology that for me has argued convincingly the case for equality of opportunity, social justice, and freedom at the same time. Positions that are contradictory within the frame of mainstream ideological discourse.

    The word I kept coming back to was "voluntary". This, a more broad way to articulate the implications of the libertarian notion of the non-aggression principle, clearly eschews coercion as a just means of social organization. I have come to realize that this was the underlying factor that accounted for my own ideological development, I just didn't recognize it as the prime motivator at the time: it was always more implicit than explicit. Even in the literature I read it was rarely discussed directly, and appeared only as an assumption that coercion is not only undesirable morally, but also unnecessary in a truly free society.

    However, Potter and Heath's book (Rebel Sell) brought these underlying assumptions into focus. In their book they argue that coercion is more or less a necessary evil and that the libertarian ideal is nothing but a dream since it fails to take into account collective action problems. Collective action problems are issues of social organization that arise from prisoner dilemma-like circumstances where the individual nature of humanity forces us to compete with one another in a race to the bottom, even when the outcome is undesirable for all invovled. The arms race is an example of such a collective action problem at a more geopolitical level. In cases like these, the authors argue, the only way out is for the parties involved to agree to stop by issuing what amounts to an inherently coercive pact that limits the freedom of the other. Thus, coercion is a necessary evil to rationally organize a complex, modern, multi-faceted society.

    Anyways, what I am trying to get at is a discussion about the necessity/lack of necessity of coercion in a just society. What do you think? For those of you who describe your political beliefs as anti-authoritarian/libertarian how do you perceive coercion and then square that perception with your ideological outlook?
     
  2. Dak

    Dak mentat

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    The arms race is a prefect example of how coercion would still benefit no one. Look at the talks of supposed reduction of Nuclear stockpiles. Even if an agreement is reached, there is no way to truly know if the other side is holding up their end of the bargain, so you can't uphold your end either unless you are completely naive.

    (I won't even go into the fact that their are many other non-standard weapons out there now that are just as destructive as nuclear weapons, save for maybe the lasting ground radiation part).

    There is coercion and there is force. It's one thing to give a great speech and persuade some people to follow your plan. It's entirely another to force dissenters (even if a minority) to comply.
     
  3. Death Aflame

    Death Aflame voice of dissent

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    How are you defining coercion Dakryn?

    Ontological issues aside, the definition I am basing my assumptions on is pretty close to this: "Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation or some other form of pressure or force."

    In other words, coercion is the use of force.

    Anyways, in terms of the arms race thing, the authors of the book I mentioned simply use it as an example of the only rational result of the prisoner's dilemma. How realistic it actually is, is another issue entirely.

    Another example that is perhaps better is the problem of the ever increasing size of vehicles on the road. This is the sort of collective action problem or race to the bottom, the authors argue, that can only be solved by some sort of pact, solemn decree or law that forces people to not drive cars above a certain size/weight.
     
  4. Dak

    Dak mentat

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    Then it is wrong.

    Ever increasing size of vehicles on the road? Everywhere I look I see those fuck-ugly Prius' and Fit's.

    Besides, why are "large" vehicles on the road a problem?
     
  5. Death Aflame

    Death Aflame voice of dissent

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    You didn't answer my question, what definition of coercion are you using? And how exactly is that definition "wrong"?
     
  6. Dak

    Dak mentat

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    What makes it right to force another person to pursue the agenda of someone else?
     
  7. Death Aflame

    Death Aflame voice of dissent

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    I misunderstood you. I thought you meant my definition was wrong as in incorrect, not that it was wrong on a normative level.

    I agree with you, in general it is wrong to coerce others. Means and ends are connected systems and one cannot violate means to justify ends; coercion is a type of means and even given best case scenarios of the ends it is undesirable. For example, income redistribution through social safety nets uses the means of coercion (taxation) for what may be called a social justice end: to assist the underclasses of society. This is illegitimate, the libertarian argument goes, because while the end is righteous, the means by which it is achieved is coercive and therefore morally objectionable in itself; you've shot yourself in the foot on a normative level from the beginning.

    This is the exact assumption I was coming from before I read The Rebel Sell. The book, however, got me thinking more explicitly about coercion due to prisoner dilemma like scenarios, aka races to the bottom. Let me ask the question a different way: is there ever a scenario where coercion is justifiable?
     
  8. Dak

    Dak mentat

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    Excluding punishment for crimes, I don't believe so.

    I think this video is a very simple yet pertinent explanation:

     
    #8 Dak, Jan 16, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 19, 2015
  9. Cythraul

    Cythraul Active Member

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    I'm kind of puzzled by this remark. The way I think about matters of justice, coercion and justice are conceptually linked. For example, if something is unjust, then it is justifiable to use force to get people to refrain from doing it. Otherwise it's not a matter of justice, but instead a matter of morality more broadly construed. So the way I think about justice is that justice is a narrowly circumscribed domain within morality, and it's the domain of morality in which coercion is permissible. The way I see it, it is entirely possible to have a just society in which there is coercion.

    The libertarian view of justice, as I view it, is that the sole fundamental right of justice is the negative right to non-interference. That, I take it, implies that initiating force against others is unjust. But I don't take that principle to imply that all uses of force are unjust. The would-be killer initiates force against me by trying to stab me unprovoked; I justly coerce him by making it the case that he does not stab me.

    The real difficulty I have with so-called right-libertarianism - and it might surprise you that I feel this way - is that it is not clear how to square the non-interference principle with a commitment to private property rights. On the face of it, private property limits liberty, and that raises the question whether private property ought to be considered objectionable by the right-libertarian for the very same reasons they would find property rights violations objectionable. If the question is answered in the affirmative, then it appears that right-libertarianism, or at least my version of it, is incoherent. But I'm not quite sure which side of this issue is correct.
     
  10. Dak

    Dak mentat

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    If there was no private property, then it would be impossible to steal. Or do you mean land specifically?

    Either way, private property does not limit liberty, it enables it.
     
  11. Badbird

    Badbird Never banned

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    Ayn Rand is dead hahahahaha
  12. monoxide_child

    monoxide_child New Metal Member

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    :D
     
  13. Cythraul

    Cythraul Active Member

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    I disagree. Suppose some object X is owned collectively. If I appropriate X for myself without anybody else's consent, then I am stealing X from the collective that owns X. Perhaps you want to instead say that without property there is no possibility of theft, but property is a broader notion than private property.

    No, I mean anything for which it makes sense to say that it can be owned by someone.

    That may be true. In fact, I think that's what Milton Friedman used to argue. But you have to be very clear about what you mean here. Liberty with respect to what? Liberty with respect to things that can be owned and used or liberty with respect to, say, religious worship, speech, etc.? Anyway, that's a different claim from the one that I was talking about. What I was addressing was the claim that the non-interference principle logically entails the legitimacy of private property, but that claim is not obviously correct. Suppose that there is an unowned bench and you and I both want to appropriate it for our own respective personal uses. Suppose that I go ahead and appropriate it first and now come to privately own it. My private ownership of that bench consists of the right to use it and to exclude you and everybody else from the use of it. You don't get to sit on my bench unless I say you can. So there seems to be a very real sense in which you are less free after my appropriation of the bench than you were before. The crucial thing to determine here is whether my appropriation of the bench interferes with you and everybody else in the way disallowed by the non-interference principle. I'm not saying that it does, but it is a pretty difficult philosophical project to prove that.
     
  14. Death Aflame

    Death Aflame voice of dissent

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    Looking at it again, you're right my meaning wasn't particularly clear.

    Coercion is of course justifiable (the non-aggression principle being a perfect example of this--e.g. using force to stop the aggressor). But the coercion question isn't always so straightforward. For example, with that original comment I was referring to taxes and the social welfare state; the upkeep of which is advocated for by the mainstream Left as a sort of counterbalance to what they believe is an inherently unjust system. For example, from their perspective it is morally permissible to utilize coercion (taxes) to correct market failures and to promote a more equal society.

    As a left libertarian, I sympathize with the social justice concern, but I think that this use of coercion is illegitimate despite the righteous goal. This is because I view means and ends as being a connected system: you cannot claim to be promoting social justice and then rob people by the barrel of a gun to achieve that end.

    I think I see what you are getting at here, but let me know if I am off: the very act of cordoning off private property is a form of aggression to those which the private property excludes.

    Georgist property theory deals with this idea explicitly, essentially inverting the paradigm on how property is usually understood. What is pertinent to this discussion is that Henry George started from the base assumption that property initially belongs to the whole community in a state of nature. Thus, when an individual wants to cordon off his own private land, he has to pay a rent/tax to the rest of the community for the right to exclude others. Effectively, this serves to penalize the landowner for this first aggression and to counter any negative effects the result from privatizing land

    I myself, am not a Georgist but I have always found this framing of the property problem intriguing when compared to the more accepted Lockean theories and even Proudhon's middle-of-the-road mutualist ideals.

    Anyways, while you are right to point out the contradiction between the private property and the non-aggression principle, I think on a pragmatic level the issue is less substantial. It really comes down to a matter of degree--if everyone owns property and it is fairly equitably distributed within a just society (as should happen naturally given truly freed market conditions over time), the tension between the non-aggression principle and property rights dissipates. It is only when property is artificially scarce would such a tension cause pressing issues. The current monopolization of unimproved land by the state is an example where "private" property rights come to suppress liberty in an overt and unsavory way.

    Proudhon said it best, I think, when he expressed that property is both theft and liberty. It is due to this paradox that makes property such a slippery subject to deal with morally.

    (N.B.: My position on property is more or less pro private property so long as legitimate property ownership is based on a use-and-occupancy framework).

    Edit: To be clear, when I say property in this post, I am referring to land, not possessions. Land is unique in the sense that it is naturally scarce, unlike, reproducible goods such as the bench you use in your example (if we are just talking about the bench and not any associated land it occupies).
     
  15. Dak

    Dak mentat

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    You cannot lose something you never had though. If I never had the bench, I cannot lose it. Losing potential is an entirely different thing and fairly irrelevent in this situation. Similar situations happen on a daily basis on craigslist or Ebay. I am not less free because I lost a bid or didn't call the owner first.

    I understand what you are getting at though regarding restricted movement due to private property. The problem that lies within communul property is it effectivily strips the individual of all rights and freedoms, because he must now constantly keep himself in the good graces of the collective or risk forfeiture of whatever the collective has essentially allowed him to have.

    Agreed.

    The problem with this approach is it begs the question "who does the community consist of?". The whole earth? Surely this would be ridiculous. The city? county? state? country? Since the arguement is for collective ownership of land, then the fore-mentioned divides are also in violation and therefore would need to pay a tax to....who?

    So now we must have a global tax collector (government) to make sure everyone is paying everyone (read: the tax collectors). Cool, we have that already. It's called the UN and the IMF.
    The Georgist solution is impractical and illogical.

    This is definitely where you and I agree. The monopolization of unimproved land by not only the state (which is supposed to be land owned by the collective, but we know this isn't true in practice), but vast monopolization by corporations and private land owners does create artificial scarcity.
    I may as well submit the idea here that corporations are antithetical to individual liberty by default, and I am entirely against them.

    I agree.
     
  16. Death Aflame

    Death Aflame voice of dissent

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    The boundaries of the community can shift, but George himself was advocating for a particular macroeconomic policy of the state, implying the boundaries of a given community were predetermined by already-existing nations.

    I see what you're saying about communities paying rent to other communities for the right to exclude, and this would be the extreme, though logical conclusion to the premise set out by George, but he did not advocate for any sort of meta-land value tax on the communities themselves. His theory and policy advocacy was thus restricted to one level of taxation: to the immediate community. Community size too is scalable. The net effect of a land value tax is equally applicable to both an autonomous community within a panarchy and the current status quo. Namely, it is one of the few taxes that does not distort economic decisions, nor is it a tax that can be passed onto tenants or consumers, it is a tax on wealth as such and therefore tends to reduce inequality as well (more info can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax).

    As I said though, I am not a Georgist so I am not intimately familiar with his ideas, but I do know that private property exists within a Georgist community, it's just the theoretical framework which starts with a premise of common land. I like aspects of George's thought, but my own views on property are derived from the ideas of Proudhon--a modified version of Lockean ideals with an added use-and-occupancy principle to justify private property.

    I also think communal land, or the commons, is not an inherently evil form of property, just as private property is not innately objectionable. Both forms of property can be desirable and develop naturally in a free society.
     
  17. Death Aflame

    Death Aflame voice of dissent

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    I see my interpretation of Georgist property ideals has killed this topic. A shame, considering a decent debate might have been had here.

    I'll try to get things going again: Dakryn, you say you agree with me that private property is legitimate so long as it is qualified by a use-and-occupancy principle. However, are you aware that his position negates the legitimacy of landlordism? Instead, it asserts that the true owners of land/property are those that actively use it. This is a radical idea that if applied to society today (depending on the scale and degree to which it was implemented) would destroy the rental/lease market causing a radical redistribution of property that is innately more equal.

    I find you agreeing with me on this point surprising, as I would have assumed you were a traditional right libertarian/anti-proviso Lockean when it comes to property, which is quite far from a mutualist perspective.
     
  18. Dak

    Dak mentat

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    After much thought and some research and observation, it is fairly obvious to me that landlordism is modern-day fuedelism, which is antithetical to overarching libertarian ideals.

    It is well nigh impossible to practice freedom in any aspect when you are beholding for the ground under your feet, as evidenced by the world today.

    Edit: When I have more time I will post more on this. I was also hoping to get Cyth involved in discussion of the ethics of corporations as a concept.
     
  19. Dak

    Dak mentat

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    After some reading today I feel the need to read further into Rothbards works on Anarcho-capitolism, since so far the only logical problem with what I have read so far is that it would leave the potential for an oppressive monopoly.

    I see this as kind of a pointless arguement against it, since the alternative is to just go ahead and build the framework for an oppressive monopoly (government) right off the bat.

    I think when discussing anything along these lines, all parties must be able to agree on self ownership (without getting into dualism arguements), the non-aggression principle and land-use occupancy as foundational and vital to freedom.
     
  20. Death Aflame

    Death Aflame voice of dissent

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    Interesting. I guess you and I are closer politically and economically than I ever would have thought.

    Regarding corporations, I agree with you that corporations are part of entrenched power that take advantage of state-granted privileges such as limited liability. Such a state of affairs should not be able to coexist with a genuinely free society.
     

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