Thursday, August 11, 2011

Legitimating Confusions

I had been vaguely aware of this for some time, but it came through to me posting on a comment thread that many people believe coercion simply equals pressure. While this is not true (coercion being force or the threat of force) it seems to be a very common misapprehension. It does not seem coincidental that this issue arose in a discussion about whether taxation is violence or not. The answer I gave was "yes," regardless of whether you feel it is justified or not. Is this blurring of the line between coercion and pressure not useful to legitimate it as then "all interaction is coercive" anyway (this was in fact said in the comment thread)?

Moreover, another poster attempted to distinguish between force and violence, which revealed this even more starkly. Namely, if the police arrest you, this is force. If you resist arrest, it is violence. However, physical force is the definition of violence, and whether or not this is viewed as legitimate, this remains violent. Other terms such as "structural violence" further distort word meaning, diminishing the weighty importance of them. Structural violence refers to how a social structure or institution harms people by stopping them from meeting their needs because of prejudice against them (whether based on race, sex, nationality, age, sexuality, etc.)

While this certainly a problem and should be addressed, it does not require violence to exercise discrimination based on prejudice in every case. We all use discrimination constantly, and there is rarely, if ever, violence of any kind involved. Something that does not use violence can still be fought (though in my view by non-violence only) but the real point is that if something does not involve physical force, we should not call it so. Otherwise words lose their meanings and weight. It can serve to excuse things by the mistaken view that "all interaction is coercive" or "police actions cannot by definition be violence." These are legitimating confusions, ones that are useful to conceal what is really occurring. 

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