America Runs On Coercion

November 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

I recently returned to school.  I moved to another city and left my beautiful little home and community of like-minded folk in JP.  Entering the academy and life on the West Coast, I am stunned to realize by how privileged I was to live in a subculture already consciously valuing consent.  Because the cultural norm is entirely unlike what I left.

Never has it been clearly to me that modern Western culture believes the world is created and held together by coercive force.  I see it everywhere from our dominant religious imagination, to our social and political practices, to our methods of agriculture, to our ways of relating to ourselves with food and exercise and work, to our child-rearing, to our academic classrooms with their constant pressure and evaluation.

We believe that on the other side of coercion, in its absence, is chaos.  If I ate whatever I wanted, I would be unhealthy or worse.  If we didn’t punish criminals and punish them harshly enough, we could never stop crime.  If teachers didn’t push us, we would never learn.  If businesses didn’t coerce workers, stealing wages here and abroad, they would never be a success.  Without the threat of God’s punishment, we would have no morals.  Without shaping everyone into gender roles, we would have no nuclear family, no coupling, no children, no order, perhaps no love.  Without pervasive advertisements, people wouldn’t spend money, perhaps then wouldn’t work, and our economy would fail.

The best thing my English background offered me a vision of the incredible extent to which we humans are made, created, constructed.  I believe all human action derives from an attempt to meet some need.  The skills we use in this endeavor are not innate, they are learned.  Violence is a tool we learned.  We use it constantly to try and meet human needs.  And the problem is that, for meeting human needs, violence is an incredibly shitty tool.  We need to be able to distinguish violence, what it is, and see it as a problem.  And, more importantly, we need to imagine new tools to replace it.

I’m staring to realize that feminism drastically altered my world when it offered me an ethic of consent.  The results swept through every part of my life.  It is moving still, constantly.  I’m going to try to honor that with more words.  I’m going to try to talk about my life post-feminist awakening, about the world I can more and more imagine that runs on consent, and point to other people I see imaging a world that prioritizes consent.

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