Understanding “Structural Coercion” and “Structural Violence”

Understanding “Structural Coercion” and “Structural Violence”, by Peter Joseph

This is a response to an email received. While the subject of “Structural Coercion” and “Structural Violence” seem hard for many to grasp, it is actually very simple once a systems-based perspective is taken and the world is viewed through the eyes of large scale statistics and not narrow anecdotes/reductionist thought.

Dear Peter,

I was talking to a person in a free-market forum about Structural Coercion and Structural Violence as you often talk about and they argued that you are saying nothing more than “doing work” is Structural Coercion and since everyone must work it is a dumb idea. Another guy said something like “TZM thinks if a tree falls on a person in a forest, it is structural violence!”

I was wondering if you had heard these kinds of arguments and what you would say?

I tend to find that those who cannot get a grasp on these ideas tend to think only in empirical/absolute terms, removing the relative context that is being made within the larger argument. In this case, the argument regards the economy and the market system.

For example, you could argue that needing to eat is “structural coercion” due to evolution and human biological needs, while dying of old age is “structural violence” since your natural age term is coming to an end, likely against your will.

Both of these are, in fact, true statements, if you were to define those words with no other related historical or temporal context. All the people who dismiss structural coercion & structural violence in the context of my use tend to fall victim to this.

The missing relevance/context in this case is whether the system or condition causing the “violence” or “coercion” is immutable – or changeable.

For example, to argue against needing to eat to live as a human being is, of course, pointless because it can’t be changed (as far as we know).

On the other hand, if a system/condition in question can be changed to improve the outcome of that existing system’s intent, then we are in a different territory.

Contrary to the naturalist fallacies put forward by many economic philosophers, the market economy/system is most certainly not a ‘structural law of nature’ and therefore it can be changed/replaced.

The question then is can it be changed/replaced to improve what an economy is intended to do? Is the new model better than the old?

If an economic system intends to be efficient with resource use, sustainable for future generations, while raising the whole of society to the highest standard of living it can within those boundaries, then we can logically assess – as per the work of TZM – that the market system is inferior by comparison to another, more effective alternative model to meet these same goals. Inductive reasoning on all levels provides definitive evidence of this (See TZM’s book), hence the advocation of a NLRBE.

In the context of market-induced “structural violence” then, which is the result when people suffer, get sick, become mentally ill, and/or die due to the nature of the market economy system itself – not the real world – we now have a logical basis to say “Hey- the market system is killing/depriving people and causing sickness and poor behavior that is now unnecessary since the economic basis of society can, indeed, be changed for the better to curtail those unnecessary consequences.” It’s that simple.

As far as structural coercion, the same rules apply. Is the coercion “natural” or is it contrived and changeable? Dismissing the idea by saying “people have to work!” and hence structure coercion is to be dumb/pointless is, again, an empirical assumption and not related to the specific argument at hand.

For one, anything can be “work”. Thinking is work. Getting out of bed is work. Looking up with your eyes is work. We need a context.

The context I present relates to “commercial labor” – labor for income – not mere “work” in general.

So the question then becomes: “Do people have to exchange and submit to labor for income to get money and hence survive?”

In the market economy – yes. But not in a model without money and a different means to utilize resources, share ideas and produce. Therefore, if it is found that the latter model can prove to be more effective in creating increased well-being/freedom for the whole of humanity, while the old market model, by comparison, continues to cause great distress, unemployment and poor well being for billions…. then clearly the new model (i.e. NLRBE) is superior to the market model and hence motivation to change the system should be made in the name of public health and freedom.

Put another way, structural coercion in the market is the system rule that you can only get the resources you need if you submit to labor/exchange in some form. Since this is provably unnecessary and even wasteful and counter-productive to progress and wellbeing in the early 21st century, as per the work of TZM, it is hence now a negative force by comparison and should be removed/replaced.

As an aside, free-market people hate the idea of structural coercion because it utterly destroys the idea of “voluntary” trade. So this is why you hear these weak arguments so often. It shatters the basic premise of the idea of person to person “freedom” itself in the market, by revealing a larger context of force being put on the whole of society, unnecessarily.

Hope that helps.