Coercion is far

by saliency1 min read16th May 201113 comments

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I was in the subway about a month ago when saw an advert for a new show The Bourgeoisie.  While waiting for my train I thought about the families patriarch and the control he probably exerted over family members.  I imagined the cliché of the daughter forced into a marriage for political advantage.  I thought about the sacrifice for the greater good of the family that she would be coerced into making and thought how it is easier to force others to sacrifice then to sacrifice yourself.  I thought that coercion may be one of the mechanisms that have enabled humans to engage and execute long term plans.  If the immediate short-term costs are what most often repress long-term action then those not saddled with the short-term costs of their long-term actions will be prone to engage in more long-term action.  Coercion is far.

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Love the down votes with no comments!

What is your theory of intra-group coercion? Is it near?

I think that by the time you get to asking "is coercion near or far", you have already gone astray; it seems like a type error. There is no particular reason for coercion, which is a broad category of actions, to be connected to the near/far distinction, which is a fuzzy classification of modes of thought. It's also a very particular, familiar type error - it's Robin Hanson's trademark confusion. I can't downvote when he does it, since Overcoming Bias doesn't have that feature, but I would.

it's not so fuzzy if the dividing line has to do with which of the two main reward chemicals used by your brain is administered for different types of actions.

Are you suggesting such a thing is the case?

And, if so, what evidence do you know of for and against it?

Can you give me an example of short term coercion being of benefit at the group level?

This post is written in a stream-of-consciousness style which is hard to read. It could use a paragraph break or two. I'm still not entirely sure of exactly what "if the immediate short-term costs are what most often repress long-term action then those not saddled with the short-term costs of their long-term actions will be prone to engage in more long-term action" is trying to say in the context of this post, despite reading it multiple times.

The style makes it seem not particularly well thought-out, especially since little evidence is provided in support of the conclusions. It seems like a transcript of the way you jumped from one thought to another, without really pausing to subject those thoughts to criticism. One could just as well construct an equally flimsy explanation with the opposite conclusion: "I thought about the cliche of a school kid being forced to give up his lunch money to bullies. I thought about how he'd need to go hungry while the bullies had a good time with his cash, and thought how it is easier to force others to sacrifice then to sacrifice yourself. I thought about the visceral way in which the threat of coercion is always be present in the lives of some people, and how they have to take into account in everything they do. I also thought of the way the bullies get constant sadistic pleasure out of it and a regular infusion of extra money. Coercion is near."

Even if we were to accept the chain of reasoning, it doesn't really provide much useful information. Okay, coercion is near or it's far. So what? What should this make us anticipate that we didn't anticipate before?

"I thought about the cliche of a school kid being forced to give up his lunch money to bullies. I thought about how he'd need to go hungry while the bullies had a good time with his cash, and thought how it is easier to force others to sacrifice then to sacrifice yourself. I thought about the visceral way in which the threat of coercion is always be present in the lives of some people, and how they have to take into account in everything they do. I also thought of the way the bullies get constant sadistic pleasure out of it and a regular infusion of extra money. Coercion is near."

I like this, it was what I was looking for in a discussion board.

Question, do you think this short-term coercion is a common mechanistic used in our society? I would argue that most of the coercion you see in organized societies is used to force coordination (aka long-term)

(guess I have to wait 6 minutes to submit this..)

Question, do you think this short-term coercion is a common mechanistic used in our society? I would argue that most of the coercion you see in organized societies is used to force coordination (aka long-term)

I agree with jimrandomh's assessment that "coercion" is too broad and vague of a term. There are many kinds of coercion which use many different mechanisms ranging from physical violence to forceful persuasion and emotional appeals. There's the physical bullying kind of coercion, there's coercion by threat of losing social approval, there's being at work and being told by your boss to do something you don't like, there's a parent telling their kid to go to bed or else, there's a lover trying to guilt their partner into giving them sex...

And "short-term" versus "long-term" isn't very well defined, either. (What about medium-term?) It's a bit like asking, "what do you think is more common, thinking for a short- or long-term purpose"?

I'm also not sure that "short-term" and "long-term" are a good way of classifying things into near and far. For instance, ideals about improving and ennobling yourself in school are "far" and part of what motivates one to go to school, and this is a long-term objective. But the actual task of going to school in the present and actually attending the lectures and doing the exercises is "near". (And effectively studying is difficult because the near and far modes don't necessarily pull in the same direction.)

I would say that if we did presume that it made sense to classify coercion as either "near" or "far" - which I'm not convinced that it does - then it would make more sense to put it as "near". Coercion usually isn't about remote noble ideals, but concrete pragmatic self-benefiting goals. That's "near". Even though there may often be a high temporal distance, the one doing the coercion can often see the progress being made towards the ultimate goal in the here and now.

Thanks for the feedback.

On readability when I say the below what do you think? "I thought that coercion may be one of the mechanisms that have enabled humans to engage and execute long term plans."

I thought of the below as a continuation of the above thesis statement. "If the immediate short-term costs are what most often repress long-term action then those not saddled with the short-term costs of their long-term actions will be prone to engage in more long-term action."

To say it a different way. People often don't engage in long-term action that are good for them because they are unable to overcome their resistance to paying the short term costs. Leaders, those in a group able to exercise coercion, are no different but have the ability to coerce members into paying the short-term costs leading them to engage in more long-term action.

On readability when I say the below what do you think? "I thought that coercion may be one of the mechanisms that have enabled humans to engage and execute long term plans."

This particular sentence was easy to read. The next one was not.

To say it a different way. People often don't engage in long-term action that are good for them because they are unable to overcome their resistance to paying the short term costs. Leaders, those in a group able to exercise coercion, are no different but have the ability to coerce members into paying the short-term costs leading them to engage in more long-term action.

And this is much better than the original. In particular, the role of leaders was not originally clear.

"families patriarch"......"sacrifice for the greater good of the family that she would be coerced into making"

Is it not clear I am talking about group level dynamics?

"I'm also not sure that "short-term" and "long-term" are a good way of classifying things into near and far. For instance, ideals about improving and ennobling yourself in school are "far" and part of what motivates one to go to school, and this is a long-term objective. But the actual task of going to school in the present and actually attending the lectures and doing the exercises is "near". (And effectively studying is difficult because the near and far modes don't necessarily pull in the same direction.)"

umm yes that is what this is all predicated on.... and I am saying "coercion may be one of the mechanisms that have enabled humans to engage and execute long term plans."

"families patriarch"......"sacrifice for the greater good of the family that she would be coerced into making"

Is it not clear I am talking about group level dynamics?

It's not obvious. Certainly that's one possible interpretation, but the "I thought" structure of the post muddles this.

You started off with the sentence "I was in the subway about a month ago when saw an advert for a new show The Bourgeoisie". Obviously, the fact that you had this thought a month ago in a subway is not relevant for the rest of the post - it's just background on what started this train of thought. However, it was not clear that the forced marriage bit was not likewise just background on what led you to the next thought.

Instead, it looked like the post was just a string of separate thoughts, with no clear way of telling which ones happened to belong together and which ones were just there by accident.