Coercion vs. control

I think left libertarians risk watering down their message by adopting a coercion-centered understanding of the meaning of freedom. The types of (non-LITAS) libertarian and progressive rhetoric that have played a large role in influencing the development of my worldview tend to make heavy use of the term “social controls.” In the progressive case, social controls are sometimes referred to as a necessary evil, or last resort. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I don’t know of a formal definition of “social controls,” but I suspect that overly-formal or overly-analytical development of ideas may also be leading to the adoption of premises (rightly or wrongly) associated with the American right by the American libertarian movement, whose non-LITAS elements (let alone “private sectorist” elements) contain a heaping helping of American-style individualism. Everything I’ve read about social controls (which is mostly stuff about other subjects, that refers in passing to social controls) leads me to think that all coercion is social control but not all social control is coercion. Most other things referred to as social controls seem to fit into the category of behavioral psychology, specifically asymmetric applications of it, in which one party’s role is to condition and another’s is to be conditioned.

A rather spammy website called “” offers a “medical” definition of social control that basically equates to “constituted authority.” This I find troublesome as it largely lets the private sector off the hook, although I like their use of the word institution. The more respectable-looking offers a less narrow definition:

Social control is the means by which members of a society attempt to induce each other to comply with the society’s norms. Social controls influence behavior constantly because they are internalized and come into play every time a person has a deviant impulse.

I like this definition because I find it very reminiscent of vocational (i.e. decidedly non-liberal-arts-oriented) education program offerings. In the course of turoring community college students, it became obvious to me that differences between liberal arts departments (say, the math department) and career-oriented departments (say, “medical assistant”) go far, far deeper than the “pure vs. applied” dichotomy I was taught to believe in once upon a time. It is a cultural divide as entrenched and gaping as Mods vs. Rockers, or Vickies vs. Thetes, or Red States vs. Blue States. A large portion (I’m tempted to say the lion’s share, but that’s an outsider’s view) of the mission of the vocational departments is less about teaching (or even hands-on training) than about enculturation. Pre-requisites and co-requisites are interlocked in a way that makes part-time study impossible, electives almost impossible, sabbaticals unheard of, and thereby enforces a chronological cohort system in which each graduating class is a subset (sometimes a small subset) of an entering class. Note that a few sentences back I said “medical assistant,” not “medical assisting.” The adoption of labeling programs as occupations rather than “disciplines,” I suspect, is no accident, but I’m a little bit paranoid, so don’t take my word for it. The trashy TV commercials of for-profit trade schools have long hawked curricula which are basically job titles, and in recent years that mentality has (unfortunately IMHO) infected the public community colleges. My closest ties to this world of trade-school mentality was when my LL was majoring in “physical therapy assistant” [sic] at the local community college. Like me, she’s a free spirit, and of course was drummed out of the program within weeks. A vocational program is very much a voluntary association (although I’m sure “workfare” schemes are eroding that aspect of it) but is also very much a nexus of social control, as defined by Sociology Guide, or by Webster’s Online Dictionary (are there as many Webster’s Dictionaries as there are Poor Richard’s Almanacks?):

The training or molding of an individual through various relationships, educational agencies, and social controls, which enables him [sic] to become a member of a particular society.

I’m more inclined to identify with the label “antiauthoritarian” than “antistatist” (although I am of course both). One problem with this is that people and groups who self-identify primarily as anti-authoritarian seem to offer no web content other than protest footage, and similarly boring conversation. Antistatism is much more developed as a theory, but is laced with decidedly narrow definitions that look to my largely untrained mind as if they’re designed to trip people up, especially people who can be thought of as either idealists or egalitarians. One of my favorite anarchist slogans, which was popular during the period of my life when my affinity to anarchism was at its peak (sadly to say, not the present) is “kill the controls.” I just did a Yahoo!/Bing search on that phrase and, depressingly, the entire first page of results is about gaming.

Just what are these “controls” that some of us would like to “kill?” To the extent that there really is a genetic component to human conduct, one of my first targets would be whatever genetic mechanisms are responsible for dominance-submission behavior, which of course is readily observed in most if not all animal species. This is the main reason why I’m not a primitivist. It’s a tricky area, because technology to genetically engineer ones progeny will probably precede technology to genetically re-engineer oneself. It seems to me, anyway, that the former is a “lower hanging fruit.” From the “kill the controls” perspective, it seems desined that things will get much worse before they get much better. Some targets that are already within reach might include psychological (self-directed, of course) “re-imprinting,” by which hopefully one can erase some of the cultural programming they’ve received, even in the “formative” years. Another project (which seems to be well underway, but has a long way to go) is the creation of networks of teachers and learners in which learning applied (useful) knowledge and learning for its own sake need not be a “pick one” proposition.

About n8chz

पृथ्वी की उच्च किराया जिले में उद्यमिता कौशल अभाव
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Coercion vs. control

  1. Jack Crow says:

    I keep coming back to this. This is all kinds of shiny.

  2. Poor Richard says:

    Some differences:

    Coercion is only one type of control (stick vs carrot). Without modifiers, control sounds pretty absolute while coercion sounds indefinite as to result. And, ironically, in some literature “controls” may refer to a reference set that is NOT manipulated.

    It seems proper to me that there should be much diversity in educational methods and goals, as long as both are sufficiently transparent to all parties (after all, parties and education go hand in hand, and parties provide another venue for social control).

    I primarily identify as anti-authoritarian and still manage to produce a bit of content. Self-directed cognitive re-engineering is in fact my core topic. I address this in posts like The Meaning of life, Addiction to Irrationality, The beginning of wisdom 3.0, and AHA!.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s