Coercion: the halt in humanity's progression

It is accepted that coercion is the natural way of things in our modern society. Coercion, which is the notion of persuading someone to do something through the use of threats or force, exists everywhere, whether it is at a state penitentiary, the United States border, or even in a local school district. This concept can both directly and preemptively deprive a person of options that he or she might have had beforehand and always invades someone’s autonomy. All of our accepted social, political, and economic norms all essentially depend on some form of coercion in order to operate, and perhaps this is what is keeping us from our true potential as a species. For example, if a child drops out of school, he or she is more-or-less labeled as a failure by society. But if you really think about it, couldn’t dropping out be considered a sort of counter-control reaction to a coercive environment, a sort of escapement behavior to an environment that attempts to control their behavior? Maybe it’s time to rethink our so called “morals” and “ideals”. In order for humanity to progress, we must reconsider how our relational autonomy is subject to coercion in our present-day society. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that morality ought to be blamed “if the human species were never to attain to its ultimate potential and magnificence” (Preface. 6) while Karl Marx believed that the state was the ultimate form of coercion since it encourages capitalism and keeps the class system alive, as “every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes” (Communist Manifesto. 1). Henry David Thoreau, on the other hand, was incredibly vocal about how the great evil of human life is conformity to the beliefs, values, and behaviors of others, especially since a man expressing his own opinion was “a phenomenon so rare that [he] would any day walk ten miles to observe it” (Walden. Visitors), and if these beliefs and values, including our concepts of justice, freedom, and equality, are founded on the bedrock of coercion, then humanity has a lot of work ahead in order to fix itself.

This item, in my opinion, demonstrates the concept of governmental coercion very well. While an intervening foreign nation or organization might have the best intentions at heart when invading another state, it is still imposing its ideology or biased perspective onto that state, which is a form of coercion. The United States prides itself on being the leader of the "free world" and how it is the "bringer of democracy". Yet if this falls under true democratic theory, this notion of bringing democracy to other countries could be argued to be a coercive gesture, as this form of governance has not been justified to those to whom it is being "brought". According to political philosopher Hannah Arendt, "such a world government is indeed within the realm of possibility, but one may suspect that in reality it might differ considerably from the version promoted by idealistic-minded organizations" (Perplexities, 40). It ought to be noted that this painting was done by an Egyptian artist, which most likely refers to the Arab Spring. This series of armed anti-government protests and rebellions in the Middle East during 2011 for democracy has been largely accused of being part of a U.S. strategy to control and steer the movement's aims and goals towards a western-style liberal democracy.
The formal term for the abandonment of a religion is called apostasy and it can be broadly seen as assuming an opinion contrary to one’s anterior beliefs, though this isn’t an identity that someone is typically proud of having, as many religions and even certain states punish or shun apostates. According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, when a person chooses to follow a religion, it is his or her fundamental human right to also have the ability to recant. The Roman philosopher Lucretius went as far as to argue that “it is religion that breeds Wickedness and that has given rise to wrongful deeds,” thereby potent in “persuading to do wrong” (The Nature of Things, I.80-101). In that sense then, forcing someone to either continue practicing something he or she doesn’t believe in or to instrument his or her’s exclusion of society because of his or her refusal to partake in this belief is at its core coercion in itself, and it is all too common today in society, whether it is people recovering from being in a cult or even parting ways from how they were brought up as children. I picked this piece because this artist dedicated a whole series to the renunciation of religion by various nuns in a Jain community in India. Even though the woman in the photograph is disconnected from the spiritual world, she gives off a sort of pure energy, even though she would have been condemned to life imprisonment in certain states.
I thought that this item was very relevant to the idea of economic class being tied to the theme of coercion. One of the big debates regarding coercion is the notion of the threat and whether voluntarily agreeing to a conditional threat can actually be considered coercion, as it is more so an agent's successful manipulation of an alternative that a target might face. This is where economic class (and therefore this piece) comes into play. For example, if someone is deathly ill and you offer him or her a life-saving pill for a very high market price and he or she agrees to pay, then that person has still technically been coerced, as you have taken advantage of his or her position in order to influence him or her. In this painting, according to the painting description, three economic levels are shown with the working class and unemployed supporting the weight of U.S. economic development, whose base consists of the wealthiest class safeguarding their valuables. This illustrates the idea, as stated by German philosopher Karl Marx, that the "history of all past societ[ies] has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs," and that the exploitation of certain parts of society by others "moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms" (Communist Manifesto, 2).
This item was particularly interesting to me as it physically presents a maxim of moral accountability, which is essentially what our laws are based on. Laws are supposed to be our mechanisms of justice, yet according to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, "it is then in this sphere of contracts and legal obligations that we find the crucible of moral concepts such as "guilt" "conscience" the "sacredness of duty" - their beginnings, like the beginnings of all great things in this world, are drenched with blood through and through," and that in regards to duty, even Immanuel Kant's "categorical imperative fairly reeks of cruelty" (Second Essay. 6). Essentially, with this point of view, the concept of laws coerce us into repressing our reactive feelings and are tools that states use to monopolize all types of forces.
In addition to a political, religious, and economic standpoint, coercion can also be observed through a feminist perspective, especially when it comes to gender inequality in terms of relational autonomy. It is a well-known fact that women of all races and the LGBTQ community have come a long way in terms of basic human rights, but the patriarchy is still very present in society today and is responsible for many inequalities, ranging from assigning genders at birth to the gender wage gap to derogatory language being pejorative towards women. As exemplified by writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, “women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to the puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for, at least, twenty years of their lives” (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,18). Therefore, I thought that it was appropriate to include this photograph in my gallery, as, according to the description, it represents the widows of Vrindavan, India celebrating the religious holiday of Holi for the first time in many many years. Since the death of their husbands, they are condemned “to a life of solitude and renunciation,” illustrating just one example of a “stigma that society buckles to women as condemnation without petition”.
I included this picture in my gallery because it shows a change in the everyday routine. There is no way that it would be normal to walk into a museum and watch penguins waddling around amidst pieces of art. However, why should that norm prevent it from ever occurring? Why should we limit ourselves to typical, everyday, conventionality dictated by society? The description for this piece regards typical museums and galleries, and consists of three sentences, with one of them being “Why so serious?”. I wanted to end my collection with this piece because it shows that if we choose to step outside of our comfort zones and start asking ourselves questions that make us truly think about what it means to be human, to have a meaningful life, our outlook on death, and our notions of right and wrong, perhaps humanity would attain “its ultimate potential and magnificence” (On the Genealogy of Morals, pg. 9).
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