"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Coercion Is Death
By B.R. Merrick.
Exclusive to STR
We all hold opinions. That's one of the many, many things that set us apart from the rest of the animal world. There's nothing wrong, in my opinion, with having an opinion. Hell, I've got plenty. Let's just take one opinion as an example:
I believe that the three greatest composers who ever lived are Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Igor Stravinsky. I have a hard time placing one above the other. They each have certain strengths due to their genius, but each has weaknesses, mostly due to the times into which they were born, and the differing circumstances of their musical careers.
I'm pretty sure I'm the only man alive who holds this opinion, but it is not a factual conclusion. There's an important difference. I can assemble facts about each one of these men and their music; the more facts I assemble, and the way in which I relate those facts to one another, may or may not lend greater weight and force behind my opinion. Given my musical training, I am quite certain that I can defend that opinion in just about any debate, but whether or not I win does not make the opinion any more factual.
The purpose of this article is not to go on over the cuff about Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" (my "desert island" piece, if you will); or to talk about how at Beethoven's insistence, the piano, violin, and symphony were permanently changed; or about how Bach wrote approximately 6,000 pieces of music, each of them mathematically sound; but to merely indulge myself in a little whimsical revelry, before getting down to the far nastier business of laying out my reasons for the title of this article, and the truth I put behind it.
The difference between opinion and truth is factual conclusion. I have facts about three composers, but the conclusion I have drawn is based on what I value as an individual. What I am going to discuss for the rest of the article does not have to do with what I value, nor what anyone else values. In order to understand what I propose as truth, not opinion, it will be necessary to take as fact the following phenomena:
1. Individuality exists, and collective does not; "in" meaning "not," "-divi-" meaning "divisible," and "-dual" meaning "two parts." I am incapable of being divided in two. Of course, someone could chop off my legs, which would effectively divide my body in two, but unless the legs are sewn back on, they do not become two more individuals; they will rot and turn to dust. The rest of my body, however, continues to display all the traits of an individual, albeit a newly paraplegic individual. If any scientist actually attempted to divide me in two in any more complicated fashion, he would only succeed in killing me.
Collectives are useful groupings for practical and theoretical reasons, but only ever dependent on the values sought out of the grouping. I prefer the company of like-minded men, so I will put a label on our group as a collective. However, this label is abstract only; it does not exist. Collectives are also abstract ideas, made from the values held in individual minds. Occasionally, a warped individual will attempt to make the collective real, and murder those who disagree, like Josef Stalin. He failed to grasp the first fact.
2. Volition exists. As an individual, I am aware of my own ability to take in information from the five senses, subject it to differentiation and abstract thought, build abstract thought upon abstract thought, emote, and draw conclusions, much like I have with my ears, listening to the above three composers, and with my eyes, studying the scores for their magnificent music. I am also aware of other individuals' ability to do all of this, and to spend countless hours planning so far distant into the future as to boggle the mind. No other animals do this. (Dogs don't lie there panting, thinking about having puppies someday.) Volition sets us apart, and it is factual.
3. Death happens. There are many varied causes, but we live in a world with a phenomenon that many of us don't care to think about. Death is factual, and real. How it comes about, sadly, is often up to individuals. (See the comment about Stalin above.)
4. Coercion, like death, also exists. We have all been victims of this phenomenon on a regular basis. We don't even know all the ways, but coercion, one individual's will for another individual's actions, surrounds us.
So far, I have given you indisputable facts. Now, however, I am going to venture into an area that many of you may not have considered too greatly, if at all. If it has been traversed elsewhere by others, I would love to hear about authors, philosophers, even political leaders who have mentioned these conclusions as well. However, I need to emphasize once again that, unlike my thoughts about three great composers, what I am about to explain and conclude is not my opinion, but a factual conclusion that is unassailable from any other angle. Are you ready? Then let us begin.
Coercion is death. I propose that this statement is entirely factual. But first, I need to explain why I use the word "death."
Take facts 1 and 2 from above. When coercion is used against you as an individual, what happens? Your volition is violated. Think about that. Without your volition, what sort of individual are you? My computer remembers a lot more than I do, but when I punch the keys, it has to do what I say. Computers are far cruder than the human brain. Tell a computer to start composing, and sit J.S. Bach down next to it. Which would you rather listen to? (Pardon this digression, but buy that track I linked to immediately!) Without your volition, you cannot truly be called an individual any longer. If coercion is only temporary, such as a mother holding her child in a seat where he doesn't wish to be, or a weekend in prison, individuality does not completely die, but the temporary death of volition forces the individual to come face to face with his own demise, a death of the spirit, if you will. Therefore, as I see it now, there are four factual deaths when coercion is initiated:
1. The Death of Volition.
As explained above, this is no small matter, as it happens immediately when coercion is initiated, which is why I say that coercion is death. But enough has been said about that, so on to the second death.
2. The Death of Relationships.
The first relationship to die is the one between the coercive individual and the victim. When the individual whose volition has died, however temporarily, recognizes that this has happened, he wonders how he got to this point where his plans have been hijacked. If he realizes that it is because of the actions of another whose intention was to halt his efforts, what sort of relationship can continue to exist? Human relationships are built on trust and mutual benefit. A coercive individual shows that he cannot be completely trusted, and that volition could die at any time, under certain circumstances, if the coercive individual finds out and is able to kill volition, a killing which is of no benefit to the victim. Therefore, a child may stop asking for permission and go sneaking around behind the back of a parent. A homeowner, quite rightly afraid of greater death, shoots a burglar who proves himself to be deceitful and dangerous. A bunch of men in wigs and buckled shoes throw off an emperor because he steals their money in a way they don't like, and has proven that his future actions are not quite predictable, but will most likely be even more onerous. In each example, the victims of coercion are logically and sensibly afraid of the anti-volitional consequences and the lack of trust in death-oriented relationships.
This death is also not insignificant, as much of your individuality is expressed only in relation to other individuals. You don't know how funny you are until someone laughs at your jokes. You don't know how good a lover you are until you kiss the sweet lips of a particularly attractive individual. You don't know how you measure up to other guys until you go to the gym where they have congregated and start lifting alongside them. You don't know your capacity for love until you give birth and spend time with the infant. Imagine killing off these experiences through forcing coercion into the relationship. Now give me a single example of a relationship that benefits from the initiation of coercion. (As an aside, I do not count pulling a two-year-old out of the way of a moving vehicle, any more than I would deny that you should pull a deaf woman out of harm's way when she doesn't see the van heading toward her. The driver in both instances is the unwitting "initiator" of coercion. You are preventing the unintended initiation by going on the defensive on behalf of the unintended victim.)
3. The Death of Wealth.
When I say "wealth," I mean everything. Not just your money. Not just your accumulation of valuable goods. Everything.
Your wealth is perhaps limitless: your relationships (carried over from the second death), your individuality (carried over from the first), your mind, your skills, your abilities, your opportunities, your body, your sex life, your kids, your memories, your accomplishments, your achievements, your plans, your goals, your imagination, your creation, your marriage, your pain, your stress, your wisdom, your loss, your gain, your victories and defeats. All of it makes up who you are. All of it comes from your individuality, your volition, and your relationships. When coercion goes on long enough, when enough relationships are poisoned, you will witness the death of your wealth, and like 1 and 2, this will not be easy to deal with when it happens. Lacking medical insurance, I always just pay cash when I go to the doctor, even for unexpected visits. The doctor is very accommodating, and a really nice guy. Most doctors are. I can afford medical care all by myself. My relationship with my doctor, and the wealth we have created together, will shortly die once socialized medicine is put into practice, at the point of a gun.
4. The Death of the Individual.
It needn't be deliberate, like a lynching. When enough of an individual's volition, relationships, and the resultant wealth have been effectively destroyed by the direct control of another, the toll on one's health may be sufficient to end the suffering with no victory. Again, when medicine is finally socialized, those with the least wealth at the back of the queue will physically die. Indeed, the individual may even determine that his mind should initiate coercion against his body, which is always, up until the moment of death, a life-oriented entity (evidenced by the beating heart).
I propose to you that these four deaths are not only factual, but are always experienced in the same order, unless coercion brings about the fourth death immediately through a gunshot, for instance. In such a scenario, all four deaths are simultaneous, but not out of the order I have described. Before I continue, you may wish to pause and determine whether what I have thus far said about the four deaths is factually correct, and not opinion, or any other sort of self-valuing argument. We're a long way off from talking about classical music now, aren't we? Therefore, I submit to you that my conclusion that coercion is death, since it leads directly and immediately to the first death, is a factual conclusion, and that no other conclusion about coercion may be reached.
Now think about government. What is the nature of every government known to mankind, from the ancient Jewish system of judges, to the former Soviet Union, to the current corporate-militarist state of America, to the British Empire hundreds of years old; every caliphate, every monarchy, every republic, every democracy, every dictatorship, every parliament, every sheriff, every census taker, every social worker? What is the one thing in common?
This: All governments exist upon the initiation of coercion. Each government that is or ever was has basically said, "We are here to protect you, to watch over you, to provide for you, to coordinate you, to rule over you. You have no choice in the matter. This is for our collective posterity. You are free to disagree and to do so as loudly as you wish, but you will obey." Name a single earthly government that does not, in essence, say this. You may find greater financial freedom in Singapore, but you can be whacked with a cane if you cross them.
If coercion is death, and governments factually initiate coercion without fail, then it logically follows that government is death. To embrace a governmental solution, to any extent, is to be death-oriented. Again, I must reiterate that I am proposing these conclusions to you as irrefutable facts, not opinion. Notice that I didn't say that you are "evil," or even that you are "wrong." Such terms, while bandied about by everyone, including me, are entirely subjective. Death, being one of the facts established above, is not subjective. You either live or die. If, therefore, coercion and government are death, then your participation in any system of coercion, of which government is one, is death-oriented. You wanted something to die, so you joined in the chorus. Did it die? What was the end result?
In my comment on an article posted here a few days ago, I gave my thoughts on a scenario that the author wrote about, where a mother and son were having tremendous difficulty over homework, which I referred to as "prison work," as schools are not buildings that children are permitted to leave until the coercive individuals in charge relent. Just listen to this mother deal with her son, an individual who did not ask to be born:
Coercive mother: "One... Two..."
Victimized son: "I have to get it to the part and then pause it."
Coercive mother: "No, you do that after you do your homework."
Victimized son: "It’s not going to take that long!"
Coercive mother: "I’m telling you no. You’re not hearing me. I will not let you watch this now... No. I will not have this."
Victimized son: "I’m not watching it. I’m putting it on pause!"
Coercive mother: "I want you to do your homework. You are not."
Victimized son: "I know. I’m going to pause it!"
Coercive mother: "No, you’re not. You’re still not listening!"
Victimized son: "Yes I am!"
Coercive mother: "No, you’re not!"
This is an abbreviation of the videotaped altercation between mother and son that the author watched, and I have left out the actions, many of which, as you might have guessed, were violative of volition, killing it "softly" a little at a time. This is an ugly, everyday episode. God, read it again. Listen to the mother. Does she sound one wit more intelligent than a small child? Replace "Coercive mother" with "Bossy older sister." What words would you change? It could have been entirely avoided if the mother, not steeped in coercion herself, were to trust her son, his mind, his volition, and watch him grow all by himself. Nobody drilled him in walking and talking. I'll bet he wasn't even drilled in reading, just had it explained. But now he gets thoroughly drilled, so much that he has to escape into electronic entertainment for a simulation of the life his mother has helped to kill.
Would you like an opinion to go with all of these facts? Fine. I find the above scenario repulsive. Regardless, it is not my opinion that this episode is death-oriented; it is factually, literally death-oriented, in every sense of the word "death."
We rail against government here at STR, and I'm right there with you, but this is not the only system of coercion. I have read numerous libertarian thinkers talking about how certain things that the government now takes charge of could be very easily handled by families, universities, churches, and voluntary organizations, many of which could be easily used as substitute systems of coercion, leading to similar deaths, at least, that is what is implied. Libertarians, it seems, are not immune.
As I've mentioned before, nobody came after me when I gave up my church, but if I gave up government, my life could potentially be taken away. I do not equate institutionalized religion, or institutionalized anything-else, with government. However, my church, in retrospect, was quite oppressive and coercive in its own way. When you throw your whole life into an organization, it can be quite painful to be forced to leave it behind should that organization coerce you out of the collective. When you believe the lie that there is an all-powerful being just waiting for you to step out of line, virtually anyone is capable of coercing you into anything.
The same goes for the mother and son whose argument glares at me from above. The mother has developed a system of coercion, where the boy has to guess when and what and why his mom is going to get mad. Her boundaries are arbitrary and threatening. Their relationship, along with his volition, is dying off. It will ultimately lead to the death of greater and greater amounts of wealth, as year after year goes by in this increasingly difficult relationship. How is mom going to handle it when he's a foot taller, 75 pounds heavier, and still doesn't want to do "prison work"?
To be an anarchist is to be life-oriented, to walk away from all systems of coercion, all of which are by nature, and quite factually, death-oriented. The choice is yours. Form opinions about what has been written here if you like, but be certain that your life's decisions are based on truth. Otherwise, death awaits you.