A Vocabularic Hegemony: Privilege, Statist, Coercion, and the Forced Dilution of Powerful Words

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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142 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick says:

    Words have meanings.

    Words have contexts.

    Sometimes the context overwhelms the meaning.Report

  2. Avatar Roger Ferguson says:

    Made me recall Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”, written in 1946:

    “The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I don’t know if privilege is in the same camp as statist. There are plenty of people on the left here and other places who argue that the word is overused and has basically become void for vagueness to use a lawyer term.

    The word privilege is used by a small subset of the radical and academic left. These people have more power as people of imagination or on internet forums than with the Democratic Party. Can you point to me of an example of a mainstream Democratic politician or commentator using the word privilege seriously and as a talking point? I don’t think one exists like the conservative sphere uses statist including mainstream conservative members of the commetariat like Erick Erickson of Red State.

    Cisgendered is another term that is widely used in some parts of the left but I doubt will enter mainstream conciousness and dialogue (this is independent of whether it should be or not). There are mainstream liberal populations that care about the rights of transgendered people but they are not adopting language terms like cisgendered and I don’t think they ever will.

    That being said, I think you are right that using these terms is meant to show that you are a member of the tribe and proving your bonafides. These are sibboleths.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to NewDealer says:

      Is statist part of mainstream dialog though? I heard liberal ideals like universal healthcare denounced as statist on internet but not on Fox News or in real life. Universal healthcare might be denounced as socialistic or because of death panals but I can’t recall any GOP member going on TV and calling the ACA statist.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Maybe people overuse words like statist, hegemony, and privilege because they aren’t educated in the techniques of rhetoric. For most of Western history, teaching people how to craft an argument and debate a point was considered an important part of education. Rhetoric along with logic and grammar was part of the trivium, the first three of the classic seven liberal arts that students were taught at medieval universities.

    Schools in most countries do not teach people how to reason and argue anymore. That leaves people to grasp with using simple terms like statist or coercision or privilege to get their point across. Everything is so obvious that simply using this word should convery meaning.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    re: hegemony. Well, of all people, Niall Ferguson seemed to embrace the term at the time. (but he is a brit by birth)Report

  6. Avatar j r says:

    I’ll just restate a point that I buried in a longer comment on the other thread.

    Privilege as a precise basket of characteristics that color your experience of the world is an important and meaningful concept. Privilege as a blanket category used to dismiss someone’s point of view is not.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

      More often than not I see privilege used as a cudgel to shut people up. When it first appeared on the Internet it was definitely in a form of a cudgel. Asking a person to “check their privilege” is not engaging in meaningful debate. Sometimes the person being called privileged is being genuinely dumb but other times its just a person that disagrees with the orthodoxy of the group.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to j r says:

      More often than not I see privilege used as a cudgel to shut people up.

      But why would people use the word “privileged” to shut people up? It certainly won’t do that. It’ll piss em off, right?, make em talk even more?

      Maybe there’s another dynamic going on.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Stillwater says:

        It might keep them talking about privilege but in my experience it can be pretty effective at changing the subject, or at giving people n excuse not to deal with an argument they don’t want to deal with, based on a position that has to do with who the person making the argument is. Ad hominem, IOW. Not all the time, by any means, and sometimes pointing privilege out about person making a particular argument is appropriate. But the basic functionality when used that way (which is not all the times the subject is brought up by any means) is to shut down a particular line of argument based on an assertion that the person making it doesn’t have the standing to do so.Report

  7. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Other words that have (or are in danger of) losing rhetorical value (the meaning remains):

    Racist/ism
    Terrorist/ism
    Fascist/ism
    Socialist/ism

    etc.Report

  8. People prove they’re Statists all the time. Just as there are telltale common attributes all Vegetarians share, making the definition of their “vegetarianism” unnecessary, so to with Statists. Therefore the term can legitimately be thrown out there as an “explanation.” But if you need a definition:

    Statist: wants some level or other of “the Government” to manage/dictate health insurance (as the feds are now trying to do), continue to set and enforce the minimum wage (and even perhaps in future return to FDR’s price controls, which Nixon may have done as well), declare which crimes are “hateful” (therefore which ones are, I guess, Love Crimes), etc. etc. etc.

    BTW Statist and Coercion are inexorably intertwined, actually. A statist believes the solution to most, if not all, problems (the few mentioned above, ad infinitum) lies in more laws, more “programs,” more agencies with more “oversight” (a surveillance-state, ultimately), etc. If you “get” that the State has what’s termed “the monopoly of force,” (in fact it’s merely the monopoly of quote-unquote legitimate force, otherwise there’d be no crimes-of-force by amateurs/private citizens on the streets), THEN, you understand every State institution/program/law/statute/etc. is, in fact, is an act of Coercion:

    “Do (or don’t do) as the State says, or suffer the consequences, the Coercion,” from a warning, to a simple fine, to a lien against your private property, or the ultimate Statist-coercion: arrest/trial/imprisonment/perhaps death (-penalty).Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Patrice Stanton says:

      Well that was quick.

      A new record for a defender of a term coming out. Less than two hours. Usually it takes at least 24.Report

    • Surely you see how there is a huge disconnect between the definitions in your second and third paragraphs, in which the second paragraph describes an extraordinarily broader set of persons than the third paragraph. Conflating the two is precisely the sort of thing that Tod is talking about in this post, rendering the term ineffective for any purpose other than serving as a sort of tribal marker.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Patrice Stanton says:

      “Do (or don’t do) as the State says, or suffer the consequences, the Coercion,” from a warning, to a simple fine, to a lien against your private property, or the ultimate Statist-coercion: arrest/trial/imprisonment/perhaps death (-penalty).

      So do you think property is coercive?Report

      • Of course property is not coercive (unless “it’s” a hungry pitbull). When the State (threatens to) take private property as payment for some unpaid debt, say, taxes, that individual is COERCED into paying under that THREAT. So it’s a which do you want to give up…money or your physical property (house usually, sometimes paychecks).Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        @patrice-stanton

        But if I take your property, won’t the state come after me? Doesn’t me trespassing on your property license certain forms of violence on your part against me? Can’t you threaten to shoot me if I enter your house without your permission? Doesn’t your property remain yours only by threat of coercion on your part or on the part of the state?Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Murali says:

        …..And how does one determine what is and is not your property other than with such a threat? What system of property rights is just and proper and can be determined a priori?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        …..And how does one determine what is and is not your property other than with such a threat? What system of property rights is just and proper and can be determined a priori?

        Perfect, Mark.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Murali says:

        “So do you think property is coercive?”

        No, not necessarily. Property can (and often has) emerge(d) as a shared convention. For example, in surfing we have property rights in waves, based upon the position of the surfer to the wave and who paddles and or stands up first. All that is necessary is that surfers agree in advance what the basic rules are.

        Conventions in property are no more intrinsically coercive than the convention of what side of the road to drive on. Granted we do use coercion to penalize those violating either convention, but that can be agreed to as a convention in advance as well (we agree to the rules and punishments in advance).

        As for the objection that what if the person does not agree to the rules in advance, then you are playing my favorite card. I am all for competing institutions and choice by people of those institutions best meeting his or her needs.

        Property rights are the type of convention that makes sense to agree to voluntarily, especially for the poor.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        Property can (and often has) emerge(d) as a shared convention.

        You and I don’t disagree on that point, tho others might.

        For example, in surfing we have property rights in waves, based upon the position of the surfer to the wave and who paddles and or stands up first.

        Are those really property rights, as the term is usually understood? What if someone owned the water upon which those waves emerge, someone who could – with all propriety! – establish the norms regarding who, or even if anyone, could surf upon them?

        All that is necessary is that surfers agree in advance what the basic rules are.

        Agreements regarding how to behave aren’t sufficient for property rights. It’s the justification of the use of force in retaliation to violations or pre-emption thereof that define property rights.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        And to preempt confusion I want to add that agreement isn’t necessarily necessary for property rights to be established. And by that I mean the following: the defense of property by force may be agreed to as a matter of fact but not as a matter of principle. If people simply behave that way (defending the things they claim as their own with violence and force) then people can certainly *agree* that … well … people will do so. But that doesn’t mean they agree with the principle being acted upon.

        So agreement is a pretty loose word here, it seems to me, when we’re digging this deeply into the nature of rule following.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        Which reminds me of the parable of the piano and the tuba. Have you heard that one?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Murali says:

        Conventions don’t have to be coercively enforced to work. Much of their value is from shared expectations. They make human interaction more predictable.

        There is no coercive mechanism in casual surfing other than telling the person what the rule is and why it is in our shared interest to follow it. There are no cops, and if I tried to coerce the person myself (punching or hitting them intentionally with my board) I would be the one going to jail for assault.

        I am well aware that people routinely use coercion as a penalty device to discourage convention or rule violations. But this doesn’t make property intrinsically coercive. It just uses game theory logic to convert win loses into lose loses thus discouraging the transgression of the rule.

        I repeat, driving on the right side if the road is not intrinsically coercive. It is a good shared rule. Same with property rights. Using coercion to penalize those flaunting the rule can be a good rule as well.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        Conventions regarding waves aren’t analogous Roger. You’re repeating it of doesn’t persuade me that it is.

        Conventions don’t have to be coercively enforced to work.

        The convention of a *right to property* apparently does. If you can’t use force to defend it, then what is the *right* establishing? Further, we grant the gummint the right to adjudicate property disputes – via the use of coercive force? – because we tacitly *agree* that property rights are things certain individuals will act on with force and violence.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        Roger, the difference between a property right and a convention about resource usage is that even if the former develops from the latter, the latter does not become the former until effective sanctions can be brought to bear against defectors. The role of the state is, strictly speaking, a separate issue. Small scale communities can bring to bear sanctions against rule violators without state action. Even if not enforced by the state, property rights, in order to count as property rights, have to be coercive.

        And since the purpose of social rules is to solve social coordination problems, a necessary condition of a social rule being just is that it is effective. If property rights from one segment of just social rules, they must be effective. This means, so long as we talk about human agents, they have to be coercive.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Murali says:

        @murali

        I am in airports all day with a phone so excuse my awkwardness.

        Starting at the end and working backward, I agree that effective property rights require enforcement.

        What I do not necessarily agree with is that “property is coercive.”

        Property is not the same as institutional property rights.

        Enforcement is not the same as coercion*

        And agreeing that effectiveness requires something is not proof of identity. Sunrise requires gravity but this does not imply the sunrise is gravity.

        * I certainly agree that enforcement often includes coercion. It does not necessarily require it. One counter example is that the enforcement can be something as mundane as no longer inviting the person to interact. Not inviting a person is not coercive. I can elaborate if interested.

        The second and more significant exception to coercion is where the parties agree to the rules and enforcement before hand. An enforcement clause voluntarily agreed to is not coercion in my book even if the enforcement includes prescribed coercive penalties. This is a voluntary act.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Patrice Stanton says:

      Most if not all vegetarians will claim the label of vegetarian; on the other hand, virtually nobody will proudly claim to be a statist, and it’s basically always used as a pejorative against the speaker’s enemies. Surely that’s an important difference between the two.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Dan Miller says:

        I’ve known some liberals you called themselves statists but it was more in the way that groups sometimes embrace derogatory terms aimed at them.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Dan Miller says:

        I don’t believe I’ve eaten meat for about three days now. Other options have seemed better. I don’t think that makes me a vegetarian, although to a disinterested observer I would certainly look like one until eventually my behavior changes.

        If I don’t have a particular philosophy aiming me towards a particular sort of response to a social issue, but wind up preferring some sort of government intervention serve real times in a row, am I a statist by default?Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Patrice Stanton says:

      Just as there are telltale common attributes all Vegetarians share, making the definition of their “vegetarianism” unnecessary

      Are you kidding even vegetarianism is a word that requires clarification. There are places in East Asia (I’m thinking Korea and Japan) and Indochina where if you don’t clarify what you mean by vegetarian, you get seafood. Why? becomes some people think oysters and sea cucumbers are vegetables.

      As it is, a lot of Chinese vegetarian food is actually vegan. Hell, often enough even onions and garlic are verboten. In India, the default is lacto-vegetarianism. Yoghurt is practically a staple in a traditional Indian diet. Often for those who are already vegetarian daily, onions and garlic are forbidden on Holy days.

      Lacto-ovo-vegetarianism is fairly common in the west. As the name suggests, both milk and eggs are permissible.

      And then there are fruitarians and people who call themselves vegetarian but still eat one or more kinds of meat, or who think not having meat on some days of the week makes them vegetarian for those days.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Murali says:

        Murali,
        “. There are places in East Asia (I’m thinking Korea and Japan) and Indochina where if you don’t clarify what you mean by vegetarian, you get seafood.”

        Here I thought this was just stupid Americans.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Patrice Stanton says:

      A statist believes the solution to most, if not all, problems (the few mentioned above, ad infinitum) lies in more laws, more “programs,” more agencies with more “oversight” (a surveillance-state, ultimately), etc.

      By this definition, there may be a dozen actual statists in the U.S.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick says:

        And to Burt’s point above, a person believing that the resolution to a real problem in the real world requires real state intervention doesn’t make them a statist. Unless they of course the reject the logical possibility that state intervention isn’t necessary (in real time for real problems).Report

  9. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Chomsky speaks of “hegemony” still, or did a few years ago. I haven’t read him in a long while. He didn’t bring the word back to life, in any case.Report

  10. Avatar Shazbot11 says:

    If I had a hedge of money, I would be happy.

    Actually, I think there are some nits to pick in your post.

    1. “You might have noticed that our decade-long occupation/friendly visit in Iraq was almost never described as hegemony, despite the fact that the word was as perfect a descriptor as one might imagine. “

    I’d say the U.S. was not a hegemon over Iraq, exactly. We occupied Iraq and were using direct military force to keep it occupied. Hegemony is about indirect force or the long term threat of force. Wikipedia states: “Hegemony (UK /h????m?ni/, US /?h???mo?ni/, US /h????m?ni/; Greek: ???????? h?gemonía, leadership and rule) is an indirect form of government, and of imperial dominance in which the hegemon (leader state) rules geopolitically subordinate states by the implied means of power, the threat of force, rather than by direct military force.”

    2. “At some point (I have no exactly idea when), it became fashionable to attach the concept of hegemony to non-intra-state issues.”

    Wikipedia points out Gramsci and Marxism as the roots of the idea, here: “In the 20th century, Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) developed the philosophy and the sociology of geopolitical hegemony into the theory of cultural hegemony, whereby one social class can manipulate the system of values and mores of a society, in order to create and establish a ruling class Weltanschauung, a worldview that justifies the status quo of bourgeois domination of the other social classes of the society.[“

    3. “Over time, it became less and less necessary to craft an argument for why something was hegemony; simply stating that it was so was good enough for the faithful. In a surprisingly short period of time, the word came to be a tribal marker. It was used more to show others that you were using it, and less to communicate anything of substance. Eventually, it ceased to have anything to do with proxy governments, and instead became a liberal synonym for “bad” or “other.” And then it became tiresome, as all slang does, and then it became something of a joke, and then people stopped using it altogether. And now it mainly just sits in dictionaries, gathering dust.

    I don’t think this is fair, really.

    Surely some Marxist analysis is meaningless nonsense, but a lot of it is quite good.

    And yes, cultural hegemony is going to be a pretty widespread phenomenon. The term could be abused to the point where everything is cultural hegemony, but you haven’t cited anyone doing that. Certainly not a lot of people are doing that.

    IMO, you’re coming close to hippy-punching the Marxists and the anthro/gender studies/sociology types, lumping the bad ones in with the good ones.

    4. “But at this point, statist has become for movement conservatives of this generation what hegemony was for liberals of mine. It’s a marker meant to designate tribe, and little else.”

    No statism is just the anti-thesis of anarchism. All of us non-anarchists (which is most everyone) are statists. It is a term that describes a broad range (most) political philosophies. It could be a tribal marker, but anything can. It can be used as a term of derision by libertarians, I suppose. And when used derisively, it marks someone as a libertarian, I suppose. But the word has never had much derisive power amongst non-libertarians. It just means, not an anarchist.

    5. “Meanwhile, I sense that liberals have circled all the way back on the word “privilege,” and this makes me sad. The word privilege has teeth; the word privilege has power. Right now, it means something. But if I’m being honest, it means less today than it did two years ago, when I began blogging. “

    I just don’t get this at all. The accusation that the word is used too much is unproven. No standard of how much use is overuse is given. Nor is it clear that overuse to some degree would threaten the meaning or the word or it’s emotional power when used in certain contexts.

    Here are two sentences. “All white people experience privilege of a certain sort.” “All men experience privilege of a certain sort.” I can repeat them and have others repeat them and they do not lose any emotive power or meaning.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot11 says:

      Surely some Marxist analysis is meaningless nonsense, but a lot of it is quite good.

      I’m suspicious of this. A lot of Marxist analysis is just Hegelian dialectics applied in a more materialist direction. But Hegelian dialectics is just bad in ways that have nothing to do with Hegel’s idealism.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot9 in reply to Murali says:

        GA “Jerry” Cohen was a great philosopher and a Marxist (Analytic Marxism).

        Better than Rawls in lots of ways.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        Cohen is an exception. Most of the crit studies stuff (AFAICT) is definitely not analytical Marxism. Cohen is in many ways clearer than Rawls. Even if Cohen is the better philosopher overall (which is difficult to assess because there’s a lot of cohen I haven’t read yet) I think Cohen is still more wrong. But, I suspect that he is wrong for good reasons* while Rawls, I know, is more or less right for bad reasons.

        *He screws up on the ideal theory bit. His conception of ideal theory is too unrealistic to generate any kind of institutional principle.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        Rawls has basically 4 things going for him:
        1. Political Constructivism
        2. Political Liberalism (as an ideal, not necessarily in his actual unfolding of the idea)
        3. The Original Position
        4. Primary goods

        Other than that he has got lots of bad arguments and clutter. This stems from reflective equilibrium which is just wrong*

        *Admittedly, I’m in the minority among political philosophers especially Rawlsians on this, but I’ve got arguments to back me up.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        Let me put it this way. It really astounds me how Rawls got so many big picture questions right (or close enough) even when his arguments for those positions are just so bad.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot11 in reply to Murali says:

        There’s also Robert Paul Wolf, Jonathon Wolff, Joshua Cohen, John Roemer, EO Wright, and a whole lot of others. Some of this work is better than other parts, but a lot is good.

        I’d say there is as much bad Rawls scholarship and even more bad libertarian scholarship than there is bad Marx scholarship currently, though a few decades ago there was much more bad Marx scholarship than, well, almost anything.

        But how much schoalrship is irrelevant.

        My claim is that there is some good Marxism, like Cohen.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali says:

        R. P. Wolff has a blog that has wonderful short introductions to classic works and thinkers (including Marx and Marcuse, the latter of whom Wolff knew personally, I believe).Report

  11. I’d observe that precise or technical language rarely makes the transition to more popular/public usage unchanged (or unbruised, by some lights). Various grammar/usage scolds warn about the widespread imprecision in the use of “decimate”, or the incorrect use of “beg the question”. The tumult out there in the world of public and political usage tends towards simplifications and shading away subtle colors of meanings.

    For words like hegemon and privilege, there’re whole dictionaries of critical theory (Penguin, Oxford), just as there are encyclopedias of philosophical terms. “Gaze” will gets an essay in a critical theory dictionary; “perfectionism” will have an entry in a philosophy encyclopedia. These words are still alive and well in the academy. The words’ political ups and downs, ferocity or dilution are far less consequential if we’re having a technical discussion.

    If we’re having a discussion about campaigning, then sometimes you do in fact want your words to be a cudgel or a marker of in-group and out-group. There is a utility in tribal markers.Report

  12. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    It’s odd that you would call out libertarians as the ones who abuse the concept of coercion. Granted, some if us do have a tendency to use it inappropriately as an argument ender, but we don’t actually use it inaccurately. When libertarians talk about coercion, it’s actual coercion, with threat of imprisonment for noncompliance.

    Leftists, on the other hand, tend to invoke the concept of coercion in situations where no actual coercion is occurring. For example, one of Ethan’s recent posts talked about people being “forced” to work on holidays. You know who’s actually forced to work on holidays? Slaves. If you can tell your employer to go fish himself and the worst he can do is stop paying you, you’re not being forced to work.

    Also, I think “statism” is a libertarian word. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve heard it from conservatives.Report

    • Avatar Herb in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      This does not comport with my experience. Just last week I got into it with a libertarian who insisted that when Papa John’s cuts hours to get under the Obamacare cut-off, they were being “coerced” into it.

      Which, I mean, yeah….if you have to be “coerced” into making a self-interested business decision, you’ve got problems.

      As for your “forced to work on Thanksgiving” stuff…..well, when the boss says “Work on Thanksgiving or lose your job,” how is that NOT coercion? Must the threat of imprisonment be involved for it to be coercion? Or just the threat of negative consequences? If the boss threatened to post embarrassing nude photos if I didn’t work Thanksgiving, would that not count?

      Also: nice trick with the go fish yourself stuff. That’s terrible career advice that no one should actually follow.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Herb says:

        “Work or be fired” is coercion, but “keep your business below 50 full time employees or pay a whopping fee” isn’t?Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to Herb says:

        I think the point here is that either both are or both aren’t. I believe the main liberal complaint against the way libertarians use the term is the way you want to redefine or restrict the usage so that it conveniently only gets applied to actions by governmental actors or violent criminals.Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican in reply to Herb says:

        @jm3z-aitch I believe the argument would be that the employer and an employee have a mutual arrangement. If the terms of that arrangement are no longer agreeable, either party is free to terminate that agreement. Therefore, that is not coercion.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Herb says:

        Rod,

        That’s my point, anyway (I think). I’m not sure if it was Herb’s point or not.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Herb says:

        My understanding of “coercion” (via the libertarian viewpoint) is that it must involve violence or the threat thereof. So if my boss said “come to work on Christmas or I’ll have the boys in the stockroom come by & rough you up, or I’ll have the police arrest you”, that is coercion.

        Likewise, if the PPACA has a fee/tax attached to it that applies in certain cases, then that is coercion, since failure to pay the fee/tax will result in criminal charges (which are thus enforced with violence on the part of the state). However, if the PPACA instead offered a tax break for a certain condition, that is merely an incentive, since failing to meet the condition will not result in a violent outcome.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Herb says:

        What Rob said, especially about how libertarians often consider governmental actors to be the only TRUE coercive force in the world. It’s not.

        Rules in general are coercive. And everybody’s got those: public or private, voluntary or not.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb says:

        I think the point here is that either both are or both aren’t.

        That’s really more of an anti-point.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb says:

        Really, Rod, it’s pretty uncharitable for you to assume that Herb would be saying something so incredibly stupid. You should apologize to him.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb says:

        However, if the PPACA instead offered a tax break for a certain condition, that is merely an incentive, since failing to meet the condition will not result in a violent outcome.

        Well…sort of. Offering a tax exemption to get someone to do something you want is not, strictly speaking, coercive. But levying the tax is, and the exemption is inextricably bound up with the tax, making the system as a whole coercive. Which may be justified, if the consequences of not doing so are sufficiently dire, but any coercion should be looked up with extreme suspicion, because coercion can be abused in ways that voluntary exchange cannot.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Herb says:

        libertarians often consider governmental actors to be the only TRUE coercive force in the world

        Yay, another false portrayal of libertarians by a (I’m guessing) liberal.

        Gotta hand it to you, Herb, it takes a lot of…something probably best left unsaid…to claim that libertarians don’t think rapists and murders are “TRUE” coercive actors.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Herb says:

        MRS, so when corporations hire goons to beat up union activists or crack down on strikers would the libertarians say that the corporations are being coercive?Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Herb says:

        …Likewise, if the PPACA has a fee/tax attached to it that applies in certain cases, then that is coercion, since failure to pay the fee/tax will result in criminal charges (which are thus enforced with violence on the part of the state)….

        In other words – libertarians have defined “coercion” as a term of jargon meaning, essentially “the government governing.” Which is alright, I guess, except that they try to trade on the negative connotation attached to “coercion” as used casually by non-libertarians.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Herb says:

        The only true coercive forces in the world are gravity and the electromagnetic force. The strong and weak forces are small nuisances at best.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Herb says:

        Man, why is gravity always tryin’ ta keep me down?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Herb says:

        libertarians use the term is the way you want to redefine or restrict the usage so that it conveniently only gets applied to actions by governmental actors or violent criminals.

        Like there’s a difference.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Herb says:

        The Pauli Exclusion Principle is pretty coercive too, and it destroys the ambitions of all those oprressed fermions unable to move into already occupied statesReport

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb says:

        MRS, so when corporations hire goons to beat up union activists or crack down on strikers would the libertarians say that the corporations are being coercive?

        Yes. Assuming, of course, that the “cracking down on strikers” involves actual coercion, as opposed to, say, firing them.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Herb says:

        @dragonfrog
        In other words – libertarians have defined “coercion” as a term of jargon meaning, essentially “the government governing.

        If you want to argue that government governing isn’t coercive, I suggest you take it up with James Madison and Max Weber. Madison noted that government without the ability to sanction is no government, and Weber said the state is defined by its successful claim of a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. You might need to take on the editors at dictionary.com, too, whose second definition of coercion is:

        force or the power to use force in gaining compliance, as by a government or police force.

        The government cannot govern without coercion. Whether that coercion is justified is an entirely different matter, and you can reasonably critique libertarians on that. But to question whether government is inherently coercive? There’s no real argument for that unless you want to conveniently restrict the meaning of coercion.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Herb says:

        so when corporations hire goons to beat up union activists or crack down on strikers would the libertarians say that the corporations are being coercive?

        I’m flabbergasted. How is this even a real question?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Herb says:

        @brandon-berg

        The Ford Motor Company was notorious for using hired thugs to beat up people attempting to form a union. They also had their famous “sociology department” which exerted a lot of control over the lives of employees.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_OverpassReport

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Herb says:

        Do you have any libertarian sources arguing the assault was voluntary?Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Herb says:

        @newdealer Your second sentence is an excellent illustration of the reason I added that disclaimer.Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to Herb says:

        Much of this argument is about relative and effective freedom of action. Sure, employment is legally voluntary, and an employee is legally free to leave employment whenever the terms of employment are no longer satisfying. However, people have more or less actual freedom of action depending on all kinds of circumstances. Unemployment is high, you are trained in a declining industry, and you have a family dependent upon you? Quitting may be untenable. Sure, you can quit, but the consequences may be so devastating that a rational person perceives no effective freedom of action in the situation. If the employer is aware that employees have no effective freedom of action, then they may choose to exploit that advantage.

        Legal coercion and effective coercion are both coercion.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Herb says:

        Ford’s sociological department is a weird thing from today’s perspective. Disturbingly intrusive and paternalistic, but at the same time doing a lot of good for at least some of Ford’s employees, helping them pay off debt and get into decent homes. I’m not sure I’d classify it as truly coercive, but it certainly goes against my anti-establishmentarian grain, but then again real people (at least some–it’s hard to say what the net effect across all affected employees was) had their lives bettered. And Ford also ran its English school, to educate the children of its immigrant employees. Even Ida Tarbell praised the sociological department.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Herb says:

        @leeesq so when corporations hire goons to beat up union activists or crack down on strikers

        Yes, most certainly! In a way very similar to how union goons sometimes assault replacement workers, or destroy company property during labor disputes.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Herb says:

        @chris Now don’t be bringing science into a philosophical discussion!Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Herb says:

        Fraud is coercion. Though illegally adding floors to a building whose construction was shoddy and substandard in the first place, leading to its collapse, is neither, since the principle of caveat artifex applies.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Herb says:

        J@m3z Aitch –

        “Yay, another false portrayal of libertarians by a (I’m guessing) liberal.”

        Why is it that libertarians are always being “falsely portrayed?” Dude, I used to be a libertarian. If libertarianism is “falsely portrayed” it’s usually in the positive sense, that libertarians are stout defenders of liberty.

        As anyone who has talked with a libertarian, though, a TRUE libertarian, they will discover a fealty not to liberty, but to other concepts, like property or “the right to exit.”

        Example: Libertarians will be the loudest critics of the NSA snooping on my e-mail…..and also the biggest defenders of my boss when he wants to do the same.

        Yes, libertarians have philosophical reasons for supporting the one but not the other, but again….it’s more about property rights than “liberty.” Indeed, it might be more apt to call them “propertarians” rather than “libertarians.”

        Depending on whose name is on the deed, you will find no greater defender of “coercion” than a libertarian.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      @Brandon Berg
      Damn Right! Well said.

      @Shazbot11
      “All of us non-anarchists (which is most everyone) are statists. It is a term that describes a broad range (most) political philosophies. It could be a tribal marker, but anything can. It can be used as a term of derision by libertarians, I suppose. And when used derisively, it marks someone as a libertarian, I suppose.”
      That’s pretty on point. Regardless if you’re Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Liberal, etc., you’ll most likely a “statist”. It’s why I’ve embraced the term because I realized it was a proper umbrella term for all the other descriptions I just used in the last sentence. Stuff should be called for what it is.

      While were on the subject of words, what about “empire”. No one in the States talks about “the American empire” but we surely have one. Empires act as hegemons (sp?). It perfectly describes the US’s behavior and characteristics.

      And I think there is a cycle to words, with groups using a word, it falling into disfavor, being resurrected, maybe being embraced by those who were previously called that word, and then being rehabilitated.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      @brandon-berg As Patrick said in the post he linked to, coercion is a spectrum, and not all of it is bad or unjustified.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      When libertarians talk about coercion, it’s actual coercion

      Wait! Weren’t you the guy who provided the non-standard definition of “coercion” when I asked why libertarians use the word in non-standard ways?

      I’m not disputing the definition, of course. Merely mentioning that it’s non-standard.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      @jm3z-aitch There’s no real argument for that unless you want to conveniently restrict the meaning of coercion.

      I agree that government requires the ability to coerce, or it won’t be much of a government. I’m not arguing for a definition of coercion that excludes government. I think (many) libertarians are the ones whose definition of coercion conveniently restricts the meaning until practically the only entity capable of coercion is government, while at the same time being very expansive once the actions examined are those of governments.Report

  13. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Dick Cheney as an example of Disk-ish privilege

    You’re calling him a prat(chett)?Report

  14. Avatar David Ryan says:

    Was talking today with James Poulos about the debasement of the word “passion”.Report

  15. Avatar Maribou says:

    I’ve been hearing hegemony again, but I know a lot of poli sci majors.

    I think it’s very possible that the effect you are seeing is more like what happens when you write or say the same word over and over and over and over again until it becomes meaningless and looks really weird.

    If it’s a good word, that feeling about it wears off, and it comes back. Eventually. And often you find out that it was just your pocket of the universe where it stopped making sense.Report

  16. Avatar Will H. says:

    Your privilege in the hegemony of the statist blogosphere is engaged toward coercion of vocabulary.
    Groovy.Report

  17. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I don’t even know how to pronounce hegemony.Report

  18. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Ender Wiggin wrote a book about his brother called The Hegemon.Report

  19. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’ve another phrase to add, within my own bailiwick: “judicial activism” and it’s associated variants.

    When a judge does something I dislike, it’s “judicial activism” or “legislating from the bench” or some other phrase challenging the legitimacy of the judge’s exercise of power.

    When the judge does something I like, that’s called “justice.”Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The whiners about judicial activism at Volokh approved of both Bush vs. Gore and Shelby County, while decrying Roberts for deferring to Congress on PPACA. I don’t know how anyone can take them seriously.Report

      • There are lefty equivalents of this, but of course this is correct in all respects.

        I used to like the comments section at Volokh. There were lots of smart, educated people who had interesting insights and some high-level legal arguments could be found.

        Then the site got very popular, and someone posted about whether a libertarian would dim his headlights as a courtesy to oncoming traffic, and an overwhelming number of commenters said that they could not be compensated for doing it and therefore did not dim their lights. I concluded “Libertarianism for these people is an excuse for just plain being assholes,” and I haven’t been back since because I’ve no patience for sifting through all the “more libertarian than thou” and echo chambery things in order to find the one in twenty worthwhile comments there, and if you’re going to be an asshole, that doesn’t require any particular political or ideological gloss.

        I know you’re a fan, @mike-schilling , but I don’t read comments at Balloon Juice for the same reason, nor at Lawyers, Guns and Money.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Balloon Juice comments on the food posts are well worth your time. Well maybe not at lawyer rates, but still, the food threads are good.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        and someone posted about whether a libertarian would dim his headlights as a courtesy to oncoming traffic, and an overwhelming number of commenters said that they could not be compensated for doing it and therefore did not dim their lights.

        Zackly right. Libertarians are a constant night-time driving threat on the highway. We didn’t need Volokh to establish this.

        Liberals, on the other hand, realize that dimming your headlights is not only a *nice* thing to do for others. It’s smart, too: not blinding the vision of the person hurtling 140 miles an hour in your direction Saves Lives. Most importantly, the lives of liberals.

        Heh. Just kidding.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I love John Cole, but I rarely read the comments there. (There was a lovely outpouring of sympathy when his cat was killed by a pit bull.) And the comment section at LGM is an echo chamber with anyone stepping slightly out of line getting whacked, including the not-liberal-enough me, New Dealer, and Lee Esq.

        But it wasn’t the commenters at Volokh I was complaining about. It’s the posters: holier-than-thou originalists who despise judicial activism, by which they mean anything that doesn’t directly aid the Republican Party.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Two things stand out to me about judicial activism (and I’ll say here that the one I consider to the good, and the other to the bad).
      1) The Hon. Richard A. Posner of the Seventh Circuit of Appeals in ACLU v. Alvarez*. Fortunately, his view will be remembered as the dissent in this case (which was in direct opposition to a contemporaneous ruling by the First, avoiding a circuit split).
      2) Warshak v. United States from the Sixth Circuit, acknowledging an expectation of privacy in e-mails**; quite a notable difference from the old “postcard rule.”

      Which would indicate that “judicial activism” is an inherent part of our system, to some extent.
      Various legislatures quite often do not move fast enough to address all of the issues presented to the courts.

      Yes, I’m aware that the term is often used as a pejorative; but it’s often true nonetheless (though not quite so often as the manner in which intended).

      * Congress, and Congress alone, has the authority to remove a matter from the review of the courts; the subject of the EPIC mandamus proceedings.
      ** Cf. Maldanado v. Municipality of Barceloneta, (D.P.R.) where the judge found the message utility in Facebook to be something less than an e-mail.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Will H. says:

        That judges of necessity engage in rule making as an inherent part of their assigned duties seems so obvious a proposition as to be blinding and unavoidable, as with the existence of the sun. That some judges would be better at this than others, and some rules thus made will work out better than others, is similarly inevitable.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

        True.
        And it was sort of obvious the way that the judge in Maldanado struggled with whether the message utility was more of an “e-mail” or more of a “blog” (both previously defined terms) that the judge in that case doesn’t Facebook very much.
        Which does a bit to improve my impressions of the judiciary.

        Posner is a different matter entirely.
        For several years now, the ACLU has been out on the streets of Chicago videotaping police; and for good reason. However, they are prevented by Illinois law from producing audio recordings.
        Posner feared that permitting audio recording of police activities would enable “civil liberties people [to] start telling the police how to do their business.”
        IIRC, that decision came out just a few weeks after Glik v. Cunniffe in Boston, where a passer-by arguably mitigated excessive use of force in the course of an arrest by videotaping the incident.
        As far as I can tell, there is no basis in law to exempt police, as a governmental entity, from public oversight. And that’s why I believe this to be a true instance of judicial activism.Report

  20. Avatar RichardS says:

    If I can add another term to the pile of objectionable terms: “political correctness” (BTW I’m glad we don’t see it much around here…)

    I think the libertarian approach to the word coercion says more about their political mindset than anything else. As others have noted, if the big bad gubbement does it… it’s coercion. If my employer does it… it’s not ‘cuz it’s voluntary (and I’ll voluntarily give up my employment…. if I don’t agree). Of course there’s no imbalance of power between me and my place of work, ever. I could bring up the privilege card and say that it must be nice to have endless choices between employers whose rules, policies, and procedures are uniformly humane (towards the employer)….Report

  21. Avatar RichardS says:

    Can I add another to the pile of mis/overused terms (not that it’s seen here much): political correctness?

    Personally, the use of some of these words say more about the mindset of the user than anything else. As George Lakoff, points out, it’s about framing. The libertarian use of the word coercion is a great example as it’s almost solely aimed at the big bad gubbment. Of course employers are never coercive… even though there’s a huge power imbalance… I voluntarily accept the terms of employment (though I seldom get a chance to freely negotiate those) and I can voluntarily leave anytime I want (though all the other employers pretty much set the same rules, regulations, and procedures… don’t skip the fine print…. did I mention I can’t negotiate any of that?)…. but no IT”S NEVER COERCION….Report

    • Avatar Zane in reply to RichardS says:

      “PC” isn’t much used anymore, except for those who use “politically incorrect” as a badge of honor.

      It’s fascinating that the current litmus-testing, dissent-excluding, “little tent” Right has moved closer to the goal of enforced Political Correctness than the Left was ever able to do in the US. It’s just not called “Political Correctness”.Report

  22. Avatar Zane says:

    “Privilege” can efficiently communicate a particular, complicated concept. Unfortunately, “privilege” also requires time and effort to get a handle on. Those who have something at stake in addressing/combating/exposing privilege are understandably more willing to explore the nuances of “privilege” than those who have less at stake.

    The problem with “privilege” is that there are not other words that come to mind that easily capture what it does.

    For “hegemony”, there are synonyms that get at the same idea, and we can speak of Soviet dominance over Czechoslovakia without losing much meaning. In fact, we have even created terms that address degrees of hegemony and different ways that hegemony can be exercised. “Finlandization” is a nice example. I think one reason we don’t see “hegemony” used as often is that we no longer live in a world dominated by bipolar superpowers. Our way of looking at the world has shifted somewhat.

    “Statist” is a term that I suspect was always meant to be pejorative. It was used to be precise about the aspect of a proposal/policy/ideology that was disliked. In that way, “statist” has done what it was meant to do.

    If we wish to speak of unearned status, power, or comfort socially conferred upon members of particular groups, often invisible to those who hold it but usually apparent to those who do not, what other term might we use?Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Zane says:

      The argument is not “find a better word for privilege.” The argument is “stop using privilege as an all-purpose means of silencing people who legitimately disagree with you.”Report

      • Avatar Zane in reply to j r says:

        j r, I guess I wasn’t responding to Tod Kelly’s point about “privilege” being used as a device to slam out-group interlocutors. I think he’s right, that does happen, and I didn’t have much to say on that. But now at your prompting, I suppose I have said more on it.

        Instead, I was riffing on how the examples he provided are not actually quite equivalent and if the loss of privilege as a useful word is inevitable (which the essay seems to suggest), do we lose the concept as well as the word?

        You were thinking I read the OP as a call for a replacement term? Sorry to mislead you, wasn’t my intention.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to j r says:

        @j-r — I’m curious, when “privilege” is used this way, as a silencing tactic, does it ever actually work? When? How?

        And when it works, what are the practical consequences? What have you lost because of this?

        (I suspect all you have lost is a “debate” that someone else did not want to have.)

        Keep in mind, the concept of “debate” is not sacred. What one person calls “debate” is to me often derailing.

        In my experience it happens like this: I am having a conversation (online) about a real issue. Others on that forum share my perspective and enough of my experience that we can reach some conclusions; we can share and learn. Then a cishet man arrives (usually a cishet man) and wants to turn this into a debate, invariably about aspects that are either misguided, irrelevant, or simply clueless.

        And he won’t stop talking.

        Honestly, an effective silencing tactic (other than the banhammer) would be quite nice to have. In my experience calls of privilege don’t actually work.

        Which is a separate issue from if the calls of privilege are true. (In my experience they usually are.)

        If you want a concrete example, go find about any conversation among women about rape. Watch what happens when the man arrives.Report

  23. NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

    Privilege and hegemony at least have social science definitions that are still used in an academic context to refer to specific things. Other terms that fall under the same rubric are things like the subaltern, agency, false consciousness.

    The problem is less that these words aren’t used properly academically, it’s that they’re used in popular contexts incorrectly. Much like how people use “quantum leap” to mean a big leap forward.Report

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