This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Coercion and compulsion as types of inducement

Beyond inducement, which is general, we will speak of coercion and compulsion which are modes of inducement, and we will make use of these terms throughout our discussion.

Coercion involves the application of pressure (through discourse or other social means) to induce the subject to an action or else suppress an undesirable action, but coercion stops short of enlisting the use of physical force. Instead, coercion tends to increase the cost of the alternatives in such a way that the desired outcome is more certain. Coercion works by psychological and emotional pressures and manipulations.

Compulsion is more severe and obtains the desired result via force, removing all possible alternatives. This can be accomplished through legal prohibition or physical confrontation.

To illustrate the difference between these two modes of inducement, we can point to the means used by governments to recruit soldiers for war. They might use either coercion or compulsion. When they encourage preachers to preach in favor of enlistment, when they fan the flames of patriotism, and when public sentiments are such that non-participation is equivalent to cowardice, then we are dealing with various forms of coercion. However, should this coercion fail, they might resort to the institution of conscription (which we call ‘the draft’). Conscription is compulsory military service and it ignores the question of consent entirely. It seeks to compel men to serve, under pain of serious legal consequences.

The distinction can also be seen with regard to participation in the educational system. There are means of coercion, such as literacy propaganda, and this encourages attendance by presenting non-participation as irresponsible; but at the present time, at least in the United States, participation is not merely coerced but is compulsory. Anyone who does not comply is subject to legal consequences.

It is clear that we can utilize both forms of inducement against others and also against ourselves, but there are limits involved.

As for compulsion of the self, we can say that occasionally we must go beyond encouragement and mental ‘urging’ and enter the realm of self-discipline. In this case, the force of will is our own, and assuming that it is strong and properly developed, this will asserts sufficient control to ensure that the evil is stopped. This could mean forcing oneself to do something or to refrain from doing something. The decision to undergo a painful dental procedure and the discipline required to endure it are examples of self-compulsion.

An important distinction, when it comes to compulsion and coercion, is that we can speak of physical compulsion of the self and of others, and we can speak of mental coercion and compulsion of the self, but we cannot speak of the mental compulsion of others.

We can attempt to coerce another person emotionally or psychologically, and we can enlist physical compulsion as a way of achieving this. For example, in order to extract information from an enemy spy, we might throw them in jail (physical compulsion) and interrogate them (mental coercion) but we cannot truly compel them to tell us what we want to know. Even if we resorted to the most outrageous forms of torture, we are, in the end, only increasing the cost of their refusal.

This is significant because it informs the way we think about law and force on the social level. If you live under the illusion that mental compulsion of others is actually possible, you might try to make laws to either forbid or achieve this, and the laws would be either abusive or moot.

To clarify further, we can say again that mental self-compulsion is possible and occurs whenever we ‘force ourselves’ to confront some unpleasant idea and to ‘deal with it’, or, on the other hand, control ourselves so as not to entertain some toxic or perverse idea. We ‘overcome’ ourselves in these instances, even if the result is merely a suppression. Again, this goes beyond the tentative ‘urging’ of what we have called self-coercion. With self-compulsion the will actually asserts control over rebellious passions, reaching even to the mind, in order to achieve its end.

We can now see why mental coercion of others is indeed possible, and every appeal to the conscience of another person is a healthy attempt at coercion, but true mental compulsion is not. We can argue, we can preach, we can parent, and we can even threaten an individual with painful physical consequences, but this is all coercion and as such these measures do not close off the alternative. The subject can still decline, although at some cost.

We can influence by various means, but we cannot take possession of the mind of another. We can make laws to reward and punish and dole out prison sentences, but, in the end, throwing someone in prison amounts merely amounts to physical compulsion in the service of mental coercion. No real mental compulsion occurs. We can even torture and brainwash, at which point we have embarked on a project of violence properly so-called, but this abusive physical compulsion never amounts to true mental compulsion.

Here we can point to the political rhetoric about ‘freedom of thought’ and ask if this makes any sense. What, precisely, was the alternative arrangement? Is there any other option? Was there ever? Freedom of thought has always and everywhere been the fact, since it could not be otherwise. The only thing that we can restrict, and that has historically been restricted, is the freedom to express specific thoughts publicly or in such a way that they might influence the public. If there is a good reason to preach about ‘freedom of thought’ it is merely to dissuade fools who believe that they have the power of mental compulsion of others. The only thing we can outlaw is the external action that may or may not be motivated by a particular idea. We cannot control what ideas a person has.

To head off some misunderstandings by way of illustration:

If we wish to coerce someone, and in order to do so, we take one of their children hostage and make threats against the child in order to get the person to do what we want, this certainly targets the emotions of the subject, but on the basis of these manipulations we can only make them do certain things or even profess certain beliefs, but merely forcing someone to say a thing does not touch their reason and so it does not go beyond physical compulsion. Throughout all of this, then, the inner life remains invisible and inaccessible and whatever the subject might do or say, they are free to think something else entirely.

This is why forced conversions are impossible. If, in the above situation, I demanded a religious profession of faith, the futility of my efforts might not ever become clear to me, but they would be futile nonetheless. By trying to force a person to sincerely ‘change his mind’, in other words, by attempting the mental compulsion of another person, I am only setting up two possibilities, neither of them actually involving success: either I force an act of hypocrisy, in which case the subject lies, or else the subject will maintain honesty and refuse to profess (which is not so much a refusal as a statement of the impossibility of my demand) and suffer the consequences.

To summarize our remarks, we have available the following types of inducement: mental self-coercion and mental coercion of others; physical self-compulsion and physical compulsion of others; lastly, we have mental self-compulsion. There is no mental compulsion of others.

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