You know that parent that is always on their kid’s ass about everything? You know, the parents who have every day scheduled, fight every single battle, and act like raising a kid is the same as training a dog? Maybe they force their kids to get haircuts when they don’t want to, or arbitrarily ban them from hanging out with certain friends. When I see those hard ass parents that don’t give their child any freedom, the first thing I think is: that is a perfect recipe to create a rebellious teen.
It turns out coercion is a serious problem that can lead to mental health issues. Coercion might even cause most of the ills we see in society today. The same thing that makes a teenager lash out and act erratically in opposition to strict rules is what makes people do crazy things in a society dominated by arbitrary and oppressive government edicts.
According to Bruce Levin, PhD, in his article, Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness:
Coercion—the use of physical, legal, chemical, psychological, financial, and other forces to gain compliance—is intrinsic to our society’s employment, schooling, and parenting. However, coercion results in fear and resentment, which are fuels for miserable marriages, unhappy families, and what we today call mental illness.
It Starts With Your Kids
Most parents have their kids’ best interests at heart when parenting, but I implore parents not to treat your child like a wild animal that must be broken. So many people in our society would have no idea what to do with freedom, because all they have ever known is force. It starts in childhood, and evidence suggests that a more free child leads to a happier adult.
Levin points out that some cultures see very little mental illness, and he suggests it is because of the way the children are reared.
For many indigenous peoples, even the majority rule that most Americans call democracy is problematically coercive, as it results in the minority feeling resentful. Roland Chrisjohn, member of the Oneida Nation of the Confederacy of the Haudenausaunee (Iroquois) and author of The Circle Game, points out that for his people, it is deemed valuable to spend whatever time necessary to achieve consensus so as to prevent such resentment. By the standards of Western civilization, this is highly inefficient. “Achieving consensus could take forever!” exclaimed an attendee of a talk that I heard given by Chrisjohn, who responded, “What else is there more important to do?”
Among indigenous societies, there are many accounts of a lack of mental illness, a minimum of coercion, and wisdom that coercion creates resentment which fractures relationships.
How could we expect force to yield results as positive as agreement? All interaction should be voluntary; you cannot have positive ends if you do not use positive means to achieve those ends. I am not a parent, and I don’t expect perfection from anyone, but parents should at least try to solve issues with their kids without being so forceful and coercive.
Let kids be who they want to be, with the steady hand of your guidance, not an iron fist. Clearly a child cannot always get what they want, and I am not advocating giving in to any random whim. Just realize how important freedom is for children in order to grow and learn.
This is why I think the public school system is horribly damaging to a large percentage of children. That is not the only nor best way to learn, and in fact really just teaches obedience to authority. Public schooling sets children up to be mindless drones in the work world, where they will be used to the coercion, but not happy about it.
[Jared] Diamond, in From the World Until Yesterday (2012), reports how laissez-faire parenting is “not unusual by the standards of the world’s hunter-gatherer societies, many of which consider young children to be autonomous individuals whose desires should not be thwarted.” Diamond concludes that by our society’s attempt to control children for what we believe is their own good, we discourage those traits we admire:
“Other Westerners and I are struck by the emotional security, self-confidence, curiosity, and autonomy of members of small-scale societies, not only as adults but already as children. We see that people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplied by outsiders, such as television, videogames, and books. We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children. These are qualities that most of us admire, and would like to see in our own children, but we discourage development of those qualities by ranking and grading our children and constantly telling them what to do.”
Bravo to home-schoolers and free range parenting. They are ahead of the curve by going back to the basics.
Then It’s Your Job…
I have often hypothesized that the reason so many of us hate going to work is not the work itself, but the fact that we cannot act like ourselves when doing the work. We feel coerced in one way or another into not being who we want to be. This is a mild form, one that often doesn’t go beyond venting over a beer after work, or every once in a while both middle fingers and: “I quit!” screamed at the boss.
But is the quiet desperation of a 9-5 you hate–saving for retirement, but probably drinking yourself to death before you get to enjoy it–really the way to live? What if we couldn’t afford cable, couldn’t afford a new car, or a perfect house–but were happy?
Critics of schooling—from Henry David Thoreau, to Paul Goodman, to John Holt, to John Taylor Gatto—have understood that coercive and unengaging schooling is necessary to ensure that young people more readily accept coercive and unengaging employment. And as I also reported in that same article, a June 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have checked out of them.
Unengaging employment and schooling require all kinds of coercions for participation, and human beings pay a psychological price for this. In nearly three decades of clinical practice, I have found that coercion is often the source of suffering…
In all societies, there are coercions to behave in culturally agreed-upon ways. For example, in many indigenous cultures, there is peer pressure to be courageous and honest. However, in modernity, we have institutional coercions that compel us to behave in ways that we do not respect or value. Parents, afraid their children will lack credentials necessary for employment, routinely coerce their children to comply with coercive schooling that was unpleasant for these parents as children. And though 70% of us hate or are disengaged from our jobs, we are coerced by the fear of poverty and homelessness to seek and maintain employment.
In our society, we are taught that accepting institutional coercion is required for survival. We discover a variety of ways—including drugs and alcohol—to deny resentment.
And the government is perfectly happy about the arrangement, because it is easier to control–and tax–“normal” people who just go to work everyday.
And Government Enforces and Exacerbates the Problem
I’ve often lamented the fact that we cannot even live on a piece of land without being coerced by government to earn some money in order to pay the property taxes. But we have to earn more than the amount owed in property taxes, because we are taxed on our earnings as well. We are taxed on the vehicle and gas that gets us to work, which require more work to pay off–earnings, again, that must go above and beyond what we need, because it will be taxed.
Could this be the overlooked factor that makes America more violent than other nations? Has the American government piled so many laws, regulations, and statutes on top of each other that American citizens can’t just go through life without being told perfectly normal, non-violent behavior is wrong?
I think this highlights the problem with mass shootings that many have been pointing out. Whoever the shooters feel they are being oppressed by, they are correctly identifying that they are being coerced. Of course their response is insane, and probably related to the anti-psychotic drugs they take, but there would never be a need for drugs if a coercive society had not reared them.
How do you feel when you go to the registry? I just moved to Florida and had to spend almost $500 just to get my car on the road with a Florida plate. I had to go all zen and meditate while in the office to keep from screaming, “You’re all parasitic scum! Get a real job you leeches!”
The hopelessness felt when being forced to spend money, behave a certain way, or not do something you want to do, is one of those gut wrenching deep feelings of despair that grow inside some people until they burst.
But now imagine that the government has taken everything from you. Imagine if they took your car as a civil asset forfeiture? What if your tax burden is 50%? What if you give up on that business you wanted to start because of the pile of paperwork and extra costs required by government?
What if they take your kids because they are home schooled, or shoot your dog for no reason whatever? All these thing happen, unfortunately relatively regularly, in America.
Many of us are baffled by why someone would become a terrorist, especially a suicide bomber. Again, this is the coercion the Middle East is smothered in by the USA. Imagine losing your childhood because you could not go outside because of the American drones. Imagine family members having been murdered by laughing soldiers. Imagine all your hopes and dreams bombed away in the blink of an eye. Again, this is the unfortunate reality for many people today.
In the 1970s, prior to the domination of the biopsychiatry-Big Pharma partnership, many mental health professionals took seriously the impact of coercion and resentful relationships on mental health. And in a cultural climate more favorable than our current one for critical reflection of society, authors such as Erich Fromm, who addressed the relationship between society and mental health, were taken seriously even within popular culture. But then psychiatry went to bed with Big Pharma and its Big Money, and their partnership has helped bury the commonsense reality that an extremely coercive society creates enormous fear and resentment, which results in miserable marriages, unhappy families, and severe emotional and behavioral problems.