[from Mary Powers 990504]
It seems to me that there is a thing that people do called "controlling the
(perceived) actions of others". It occupies a continuum from (arbitrarily,
on the left) "do only this" to "do either one of these things but only
these".....and by degrees to "do what you want except for these things" to
(all the way to the right) "anything goes".
Most of the hassle on the net seems to be about where on the continuum to
locate the concept "coercion", which is controlling the actions of others
by force if necessary. The preferred location is "somewhere to the left
of me". Most of the arguments concern 1) the special circumstances that
justify going to the left of one's preferred position (snatching toddlers
out of traffic) or 2) speculations about the state of mind of the presumed
coercee (is it coercion if she wants to do what I want her to do?).
Neither of these have anything to do with "controlling the (perceived)
actions of others".
What Bill proposed originally, as a discussion point and not brought down
from the mountain on a stone tablet, was to consider the idea that
EVERYTHING left of "anything goes" is or was coercively achieved. If not
by force then by equally potent means. Remember that the continued
existence of an infant or small child depends on the approval and good
graces of somebody. We learn very thoroughly and early what is ok to do
and what is not, with the details depending on the person in charge and the
culture that person is saturated in.
Why use the negative term "coercion" for something so universal, so
pervasive, so often benevolently applied? I think the point is that
however necessary and positive constraints are in order to function in
society and in relationships with other people, there is always a downside.
Given that people are hierarchical negative feedback control systems, a
limit on the range of permissable actions is going to interfere at least
sometimes and in some ways with the ability to reduce errors. It is the
nature of control systems to resist interference, so if it is going to be
successful, it must be applied coercively. And whether one likes it or
not, the outcome will be that at least some control systems in the
hierarchy will be disabled.
This may well be a necessary cost of being human, of surviving to
adulthood, of being socialized. But it also means that it might be a good
thing if people learned to be more conscious of what they are doing in
their interactions with others, especially children. Are they limiting the
freedom to vary actions beyond the point where errors can successfully be
corrected? The potential for doing this begins just to the left of
"anything goes", not way over there at "do it this way or else".
The idea of calling "controlling the (perceived) actions of others"
coercion was, I think, intended simply to make this point. How it was
received and interpreted is something else again.