Friday, June 22, 2012

Invitational Ethics #2

In the previous video, I explained the meaning of the term coercive ethics. In this video, I'll describe a few examples of the applications and results of coercive ethics.
First, consider a child who is regularly disruptive in the classroom. In the hopes of preventing future disruptions, the teacher sanctions the child in some way. The sanction might be some form of physical or emotional violence, or something mind-numbingly tedious, such as requiring him to fabricate a promise to behave better, then write it down over and over for a couple of hours. If the child disrupts class again, the sanction is modified to increase the child's suffering, then reapplied, in the hope that at some level of suffering the fear of the sanction will convince the child to suppress the undesirable behavior. Why was a sanction applied? Because the child was behaving badly, and punishment stops bad behavior. If a little bit of punishment doesn't work, then more and more and more punishment eventually will.
Second, consider some typical problems faced by couples. She says he's selfish in bed. He says her cigarette habit is a sign of personal weakness. She says he's lazy, never cleaning up after himself. He says she's incompetent as a parent. The solution to our relationship problems, according to the partner making the claim, is for the other partner to change. He needs to become less selfish and lazy; she needs to become less weak and incompetent. We expend a lot of energy attempting to change each other, although only rarely do I agree with the changes you recommend for me. We read self-help books and talk to couples counselors to learn better communications skills, better negotiation techniques, that turn out to be awesome new tools for browbeating each other. We watch some movie or program in which a fictional therapist spouts psycho-babble at her clients and we conclude that the solution to our problems is to bludgeon each other with lofty-sounding but ultimately moralizing, coercive caricatures.
Third, consider society's response to behaviors generally considered immoral. Recently a ship's captain abandoned his passengers to their fate while the ship sank. Many people called for the man to be punished by the law. Many branded him a coward, another coercive label. When the legal system is finished with him, society will continue to punish him. People who recognize him will treat him badly. He will receive all sorts of unsolicited communications for quite some time, scolding him for his actions, reminding him of his character flaw, reminding him that he deserves punishment, perhaps even threatening punishment. And with that, he might have to live his life wondering when some crazy person will carry out the threat.
Fourth, society's response to immoral acts is the same at all levels, from global civilization down to family dynamics, which of course contributes hugely to the way individuals treat themselves. I've met many people, both kids and adults, who seem constantly to flinch as though they will be scolded for their every action. Are these people bad, or have they committed some unforgivable sin? I don't think so. It's likely they were simply taught as children to feel guilty all the time.
Finally, consider society's response to a lawbreaker, let's say a burglar. We send police to attack and subdue him. They put him in a holding cell indefinitely, an artificially cold concrete room, with inadequate clothing. The legal system grinds him up and spits him out into a prison, where he can expect to be robbed, beaten, raped, or even killed, regardless of how much remorse he feels over his crime, regardless of any effort he might make at rehabilitating himself. Further, just as we treat the disruptive child in the classroom, if this burglar continues to offend, we increase the severity of the punishment, hoping that finally, the terror of returning to prison will deter his infractions, or that he will simply be put away for life, solving our safety problem nicely.
That's #2. Thanks for watching.

No comments:

Post a Comment