Collective control is not coercion

Years ago, there was a discussion of coercion, extortion, and threats on CSGnet. The intersection of this with a discussion of Ed Ford’s education program in schools had some unfortunate consequences within CSG.

At that time we did not have sufficient understanding of collective control, or sufficient skill applying those concepts, to see that coercion by an individual is a very different thing from participation in collective control by that individual.

In Ed’s program, there was a prior establishment of collective control as to what kinds of things are OK in a classroom, that there are times when a child is unable to control within those constraints, and that there is a place where a child experiencing such difficulties can safely go to regain control. The child always had the choice which place to be.

A child might be distracted by family disruptions, lack of sleep, any number of things. Given the child’s prior commitment to collective control of the variables that define education in the classroom, the teacher would say to the child “I see that you have chosen to go to” that safe place to regain control. (I don’t remember the name Ed used.)

Bill saw this as bullying by the teacher. No one was able to frame it in terms of collective control at that time. I believe we can and should do so now.

Coercion by an individual is a very different thing from participation in collective control by one or more individuals within the group exercising collective control. When someone disturbs a collectively controlled variable, anyone in the group participating in collective control may act to resist that disturbance.

Further complications: Is the disturbing individual a participant in the collective control or not? Is the individual resisting the disturbance only imagining that she has the sanction of collective control (rules, custom, convention, …) on her side, when in fact she does not? Lots of variations on a spectrum between collective control and the bully.

Remember that the first exposure of collective control to the CSG community (AFAIK) was Kent McClelland’s demonstration of direct conflict between two perceptual control loops. In that demo (and it turned out to be much more general), the “Giant Virtual Controller” (GVC) had a loop gain that was the sum of the gains of the two opposing controllers, a perception that was of the same environmental variable each was trying to control, and a reference value that was a weighted average of the two reference values. No coercion was involved. Neither did the member controllers agree with each other on which way to move the environmental variable.

In the CSGnet archives somewhere around 2016-7 you should find a thread about Stochastic Collective Control. Kent said he found it easier to understand than the continuous version demonstrated in his 1995 example. A Collective Controller is indistinguishable from an individual control loop unless you know that it is implemented by a mess of individual controllers acting together or in opposition.

Almost certainly, what we call a single control loop with neural currents in its connecting “wires” must be a collective controller at the neural level of precision. As Powers said early in B:PC, he deals with neural currents that are averaged firing rates over the fibres in a fibre bundle — collective properties.

Taking any aspect of the built environment as an example (electrical power service, traffic speeding on my residential street, following a schoolbus as it makes its frequent stops) the details vary from one participant in collective control to another: the disturbances affecting specific perceptions that I control, the means I have for controlling them, gain, and so on are different from another’s.

As I passed the big chippers blocking the road my control of a perception of them clearing trees and repairing downed lines was quite different from the corresponding perceptions in the mother and son who I was driving back to their generator-powered house, and quite different from those of the guy in the hard hat and reflective vest who was waving me through; and my perception of getting my car past the obstruction so I could get them home (and then turn around and get myself back home) corresponds to like perceptions that they each were likewise controlling, mother, son, and workman, but in very different ways.

Stochastic control seems inevitable. The convenient fiction (or abstraction) of the ‘perceptual signal’ is tolerable and maybe even necessary in the model of an individual, but not so much in modeling collective control. It would appear to assert that the participating individuals are controlling the same perception. We can get away with treating a nerve bundle and its amplifying branches as a single channel; we can’t get away with pretending the the virtual controller is actualized in each participant.

I would say that except by extremely improbable happenstance, the Grand Virtual Controller is not actualized in ANY participant.

My! Such heresy. Do you think the Pope, or Ayatollah, or… will go along with that idea. Certainly there is a Grand Virtual Controller that governs and will judge us all :slight_smile:

According to the Pope, that particular Grand Virtual Controller was actualized in one and only one human, for some 30+ years 2000 years ago, and no other kinds of living control system. The Ayatollah, so far as I know, wouldn’t believe it was actualized in any living control systems. So they should agree with the idea, shouldn’t they? But to the topic title, isn’t that Grand Virtual Controller sometimes a bit coercive?

What is this, Martin? Peer pressure? Tsk tsk!

I never thought of Dag as a Lord, but I guess if we were English, he would deserve to be created one. So I guess my Giant Virtual Elephantine attempts at prodding him nicely just squashed the topic and elevated Dag.

(According to the basic assumption in theistic religions the God is certainly not a Grand – or Giant – Virtual Controller but a Real one.)

I think the claim in the topic of this thread is not an unqualified truth. Collective control can be either cooperative or conflictual depending on how near or far the participant’s reference is from the reference of the GVC. If someone, for example a criminal, has a reference which is far from that of the GVC, it means that the rest of the collective is coercing or repressing that person – probably by a police. So I wonder why Bill would have called the coercion by a teacher against the rule breaking student bullying? Perhaps he thought that also the police is bullying when they use their so-called legitimate violence monopoly? As Kant already said, coercion is necessary in education, and in this sense Ed Ford’s description about his – otherwise fine looking – educational system is somewhat misleading. Of course it is possible that some individual teachers and polices are bullies, but that does not mean that they could do their work wholly without coercion. The essential question is not the difference between coercion and collective control but between cooperative and conflictual collective control, and there is no borderline between them but a continuum, I think.

To answer Eetu’s point, I think we have to define “coercion” in a way that differentiates it from “force” or “power”. If all that is meant by coercion is the application of force in the form of a disturbance to a controlled perception, we might as well call all opposition “coercion” or “attempted coercion”. “Attempted” implies unsuccessful control of another perception.

In Kent’s 1993 demo, he showed not only that when the two opponents acted against one another, the environmental variable did not react as either controller would do alone, but reacted as though there were a single combined “Giant Virtual Controller” — until one of them applied more force than the other could muster, at which point it acted as though it were alone.

But is this “overpowering” situation what we normally mean by coercion? I think not. Bill P (if I remember correctly) used as an example of coercion the person who tells someone “do this or I will kill your daughter”. The parent is coerced to control a perception they might not have been controlling before the threat, because controlling that coerced perception has become an atenfel for a controlled perception of the daughter’s life, which has a reference value of “alive”.

Using that as an example, maybe a PCT description of a coercive situation could be something like this: Person A controls the environment of person B in a way as to disturb B’s perception of X, which person A perceives person B to control at high gain, while at the same time removing person B’s ability to control perception X by any means other than to perform action Q. Action Q reduces error in some perception controlled by person B.

Bullying is, I think, different in kind than coercion, though it could be used as a component of a coercive structure, for example, withholding a bullying episode might be used in place of threatening to kill the daughter to get the victim to perform the desired action.

Of course, in my proposed PCT description, any of the several perceptual controllers in the description might be a GVC, rather than a controller within a single person. One has to be careful to distinguish a GVC, which in PCT controls only a single scalar perception, from a collection of like-minded individuals, which we might call a Giant Virtual Person or something like that. Persons control very large hierarchical systems of perceptions.

An everyday form of coercion might be “If you don’t do X, I won’t do Y for you”, which in an inverted form could be translated as “If you do X, I’ll pay you Y”. Any job could be seen in this form as coercion, but we usually do not, because the latter form is potentially beneficial to both parties. Coercion must involve creation of a disturbance whose error-correction is detrimental to the victim in some way: “Give me that fancy ring or I’ll shoot you” offers a choice of two detrimental courses of action, whereas “Give me that fancy ring or I won’t give you a million dollars” does not (at least not for most fancy rings).

These forms do highlight a point I omitted in my last message, that although coercion could possibly be chronic and become part of the non-conscious control hierarchy, more(?) often it is a conscious process involving control in imagination in both parties. Self-censorship in a dictatorship might be an effect of coercion incorporated in the reorganized hierarchy.

However, we do not normally imagine coercion as an unchanging aspect of the environment, like the stable steepness of a hill slope, which we do not think of as coercive because it discourages including its climb in the planned route of a casual day hike. We more usually think of coercion as an intentionally controlled action that has a perceptible beginning and imagined means to an end (in the victim, at least).

Thanks Martin, very good points.

I used coercion – when I claim according to Kant that coercion is necessary in education – as a translation of Kant’s Zwang. It is really broad and vague concept and could perhaps be defined as an action (or behavior if you wish) of a person X which (more or less intentionally) causes a person Y act (or behave) in a way Z in a situation where Y would have acted in a different way W if the action of X had been absent.

So this contains at least these three quite different cases:

  1. the intimidation case (“I cause a big disturbance for you if you don´t do Z”),

  2. the bribery case (“I give you a great atenfel if you do Z”), and also

  3. the case of plain physical force (lift a baby away from a dangerous electrical device about which she is interested).

In a colloquial language all these do not sound equally coercive and even the whole word coercion can sound bad like also that of control sounds for many.

Bullying could mean just causing (illegitimate) disturbances for another person or other living control system. It can be part of coercive action or it can contain coercive action (humiliation).

And yes, I agree that “overpowering” as such is not coercion if both (or all) participants continue the conflictive control. But if the losing party evaluates the situation hopeless and changes their references, then I would say that the winning party coerced the losing party to give up.

Eetu interprets Kant as saying that [Zwang/coercion] "is really broad and vague concept and could perhaps be defined as an action (or behavior if you wish) of a person X which (more or less intentionally) causes a person Y act (or behave) in a way Z in a situation where Y would have acted in a different way W if the action of X had been absent." Let’s imagine a concrete situation. X puts up a sign that says “ABC Club Meeting” with an arrow. Y would have passed by that door looking tor the way to the ABC meeting, but seeing the sign goes through the door instead. Did X “coerce” Y to go through the door?

I agree with Eetu’s comments about the three cases. I just added a fourth, the “provide information” or “change the environment perceptible to Y” case.

In Eetu’s second message, if the “losing party” does not give up, did the winning party succeed in coercing the loser to do anything in particular other than ceasing to oppose? Is there coercion when the losers in an election concede that they lost, but no coercion if they maintain that they won despite the declared and certified result of the vote? Are all elections cases of collective coercion?

The fourth case of coercion by Martin, coercion by giving information, is an important addition even though it might not sound very coercive. The necessary precondition of coercion is conflict. Two persons may agree about going to ABC meeting but they may have a conflicting opinion where it takes place. By showing the right place one person coerces the other one giving up from her original plan.

Perhaps all elections are cases of coercion. If one party wants to rise taxes and the other one want to lower them, then the winning party coerces the losing party to give up or at least postpone their goal.

Varieties of coercion use different means of control, and what is controlled is not always as simple and obvious as conflict.

Threats are attempts to gain or regain control.

A threat is like a promise: both try to convince us of an intention. A threat early in a series of communications means he favors words that alarm over deeds that harm. A threat has no conditions. At the end of negotiations, it suggests that he sees no alternatives and is more likely to harm.

An intimidation is a threat with a condition: if, or else, until, unless, … Threats often do not state what the threatener wants; your insecurity and uncertainty is the aim. If you acquiesce and demonstrate fear you become the cow that they learn how to milk.

Extortion is a threat to disclose information that the extortioner predicts will be damaging to you, and promises to keep secret if you pay him.

These are communications of potential conflict. Bullying necessarily involves conflict.

Bullying is an attempt to experience gaining or regaining control as contrasted with the other person’s loss of control. Bullying is done by deliberately conflicting with another and overwhelming their ability (or willingness) to resist that disturbance to the variable that they are both controlling. But what is at stake is not control of that variable, but the emotions associated with being the one who ‘wins’ specifically contrasted with remembered emotions associated with being the one who ‘loses’. (I put those words in scare quotes because the ostensive stakes are not the actual stakes.)

Coercing is inclusive of all of these and more.

  1. to compel by force, intimidation, or authority, esp. without regard for individual desire or volition: They coerced him into signing the document.
  2. to bring about through the use of force or other forms of compulsion; exact: to coerce obedience.
  3. to dominate or control, esp. by exploiting fear, anxiety, etc.: The state is based on successfully coercing the individual.

As you have demonstrated, a PCT analysis requires us to be more specific when we use the word ‘coercion’. What variables are controlled, and by what means?

Coercion is usually understood as something personal, archetypally one on one conflict with another person. If a gang is involved, they’re enforcers for the coercer. “Nice country you’ve got there, Mr. Zelensky. Pity if something were to happen to it.” Collective control is generally not one on one with another person. Collective control has a range of what we might call strictness. Collectively controlled expectations (manners, mores) are frowned upon and may incur opportunity costs; violations of other kinds of rules are more strictly enforced, and the individuals enforcing them may indeed take them as license to act coercively with impunity. Examples of that are rife. This clouds analysis of the question, whether and how collective control is coercive.

More can be said about pathologies of sadism, narcissism, and what Fromm calls group narcissism, but that’s out of scope for what I can organize just now.

In addition, cultural systems vary in how demanding they are of those who enact them. Here, I will invoke again Ruth Benedict’s 1941 notion of synergy as a variable in collective control. Ralph Abraham offered a mathematical model in 1989.