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Does psychological coercion exist?

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Hi everyone.

I am new to Objectivism and I am eagerly reading as much as I can from Ayn Rand's writings and several essays from ARI and TAS websites.

I have a question concerning coercion. English is my second language, so I may make some mistakes in grammar or spelling.

We all know that no man should initiate force against any other man, and this is commonly associated with physical force.

But, is there something like psychological coercion or violence?

Can a man inflict damage to other man's mind without his consent?

I am thinking, for example, in a man or group that denies access to information that is vital for the survival or development of other man.

I am also thinking in brilliant, eloquent man that deceives another man who has little intelectual tools to fight back the arguments, and starts taking wrong decisions that limit his survival or development .

In this respect I ask myself: can I accuse another man of deceiving me? Or should I always take responsibility of my own choice, even if my capacity to discriminate truth from falsehood was limited by my significantly lower ability to analyse information on that specific topic, compared with the deceiver?

Or an adult that systematically undermines the self-esteem of children by what he tells them, even when no physical use of force can ever be proven. (Could an adult accuse another adult of undermining his self-esteem, or my self-esteem is my only responsibility?)

In some countries, wifes can sue their husbands for verbal violence or psychological torture. For example, husbands that repeatedly tell their wives that they are ugly and fool. (In this case, I personally believe that the blame lies on the side of the person that feels offended or believes what is told to believe, but I want to use this example as well since it is so common).

I'd like to hear your comments on this.

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I'm not an expert on the subject by any stretch, but my first instinct is to say psychological coercion or distortion (seperate from lieing) is only a violation of an adult's rights in the context of a forced relationship, i.e. it can only come from goverment officials or someone who is already committing a no-no harassing/stalking the victim.

Buyer beware.

Of course for a child there are all sorts of other considerations to make, but preventative measures against harmful interactions are the best course. Don't send your kid to public school on "Sing the Praises of our Furor" day or whatever Obama calls it, or at least arm them with objective knowledge about it beforehand.

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A unilateral breach of contract involves an indirect use of physical force: it consists, in essence, of one man receiving the material values, goods or services of another, then refusing to pay for them and thus keeping them by force (by mere physical possession), not by right—i.e., keeping them without the consent of their owner. Fraud involves a similarly indirect use of force: it consists of obtaining material values without their owner’s consent, under false pretenses or false promises. Extortion is another variant of an indirect use of force: it consists of obtaining material values, not in exchange for values, but by the threat of force, violence or injury.

- “The Nature of Government,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 111

I am thinking, for example, in a man or group that denies access to information that is vital for the survival or development of other man.

How does the group "denies" the access? Phisically?

I am also thinking in brilliant, eloquent man that deceives another man who has little intelectual tools to fight back the arguments, and starts taking wrong decisions that limit his survival or development .

In this respect I ask myself: can I accuse another man of deceiving me? Or should I always take responsibility of my own choice, even if my capacity to discriminate truth from falsehood was limited by my significantly lower ability to analyse information on that specific topic, compared with the deceiver?

If he does it only to you and in order to steal your property (a specifc one), thats "fraud" and you can sue.

If he does it at grand scale, then he is a "compassionate socialist politician" and no... actually you cannot sue :D

Or an adult that systematically undermines the self-esteem of children by what he tells them, even when no physical use of force can ever be proven. (Could an adult accuse another adult of undermining his self-esteem, or my self-esteem is my only responsibility?)

Sounds a little childish.... "Your honor, he call me names!"

In some countries, wifes can sue their husbands for verbal violence or psychological torture. For example, husbands that repeatedly tell their wives that they are ugly and fool. (In this case, I personally believe that the blame lies on the side of the person that feels offended or believes what is told to believe, but I want to use this example as well since it is so common).

Here in argentina there is such law. I find "verbal violence or psychological torture" hard to prove/not suitable for courts.

Would't it be "harrassement"?

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Enrique,

Thanks for this post, I have asked myself this question many times.

I'll subdivide your question into two:

But, is there something like psychological coercion or violence?

Can a man inflict damage to other man's mind without his consent?

I am thinking, for example, in a man or group that denies access to information that is vital for the survival or development of other man.

I am also thinking in brilliant, eloquent man that deceives another man who has little intelectual tools to fight back the arguments, and starts taking wrong decisions that limit his survival or development .

In this respect I ask myself: can I accuse another man of deceiving me? Or should I always take responsibility of my own choice, even if my capacity to discriminate truth from falsehood was limited by my significantly lower ability to analyse information on that specific topic, compared with the deceiver?

Well of course there's something like Psychological Violence, it's called Psychological Abuse, or what have you. It can be just as destructive as physical force. Psychological violence requires a lot of "mental power", of cunning, intelligence as applied to dealing with others (this may result in an offensive strategy as in a psychopath, or as a defensive one, as in a "well adjusted" person - and obviously most belong in between) .

The difference between Psychological Violence and Physical Violence is akin to the difference between force and fraud.

I've always felt Ayn Rand made a wonderful job describing the first, but an incomplete describing the second. The ability to defraud someone, or to attack him her psychologically can be disguised from sheer fraud by a veil of intellectual superiority, and therefore is one of the "loopholes" I see with Objectivism: In short: As the time of the muscle is replaced by the time of the mind, you can't extrapolate muscle concepts of morality to a new, "Intellectual" World. BTW that was exactly Ayn Rand's point (citation needed).

Or an adult that systematically undermines the self-esteem of children by what he tells them, even when no physical use of force can ever be proven.

You're playing with fire here. The answer is obviously YES, but that question belongs to a medical or psychological thread rather than questions about a Philosophy that has to be embraced older in life.

----

PS I believe by your post that oyu are talking about yourself, so first of all you must sit and think very clearly about that self-esteem situation and who and how you're dealing with. Suerte!

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Hi everyone.

I am new to Objectivism and I am eagerly reading as much as I can from Ayn Rand's writings and several essays from ARI and TAS websites.

I have a question concerning coercion. English is my second language, so I may make some mistakes in grammar or spelling.

We all know that no man should initiate force against any other man, and this is commonly associated with physical force.

But, is there something like psychological coercion or violence?

Can a man inflict damage to other man's mind without his consent?

I am thinking, for example, in a man or group that denies access to information that is vital for the survival or development of other man.

I am also thinking in brilliant, eloquent man that deceives another man who has little intelectual tools to fight back the arguments, and starts taking wrong decisions that limit his survival or development .

In this respect I ask myself: can I accuse another man of deceiving me? Or should I always take responsibility of my own choice, even if my capacity to discriminate truth from falsehood was limited by my significantly lower ability to analyse information on that specific topic, compared with the deceiver?

Or an adult that systematically undermines the self-esteem of children by what he tells them, even when no physical use of force can ever be proven. (Could an adult accuse another adult of undermining his self-esteem, or my self-esteem is my only responsibility?)

In some countries, wifes can sue their husbands for verbal violence or psychological torture. For example, husbands that repeatedly tell their wives that they are ugly and fool. (In this case, I personally believe that the blame lies on the side of the person that feels offended or believes what is told to believe, but I want to use this example as well since it is so common).

I'd like to hear your comments on this.

In the context of war, if a combatant is captured by an enemy then they can torture him psychologically and it can damage his mind in the sense of unsettling it because his senses don't permit him to close his ears (if the torture is via sound), which would cause stress and could lead to physical problems within the body. But in order to do this, they would have to deny his freedom by physical force, preventing him from escaping.

You can't commit psychological torture without the threat of physical force as a man would be free to escape it. Unless of course a man chooses to accept psychological torture and he can choose to stop experiencing it whenever he wants to, as in an experiment, but then his rights aren't being violated so no one denied his freedom.

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Can a man inflict damage to other man's mind without his consent?

I am thinking, for example, in a man or group that denies access to information that is vital for the survival or development of other man.

Yes. Example: The character Iago in Shakespeare's Othello.

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In the context of war, if a combatant is captured by an enemy then they can torture him psychologically and it can damage his mind in the sense of unsettling it because his senses don't permit him to close his ears (if the torture is via sound), which would cause stress and could lead to physical problems within the body. But in order to do this, they would have to deny his freedom by physical force, preventing him from escaping.

You can't commit psychological torture without the threat of physical force as a man would be free to escape it. Unless of course a man chooses to accept psychological torture and he can choose to stop experiencing it whenever he wants to, as in an experiment, but then his rights aren't being violated so no one denied his freedom.

Are you serious? The whole point of successful Psychological warfare is that the victim is not able to chose whether to expose himself to it or not. At least I think that was his original point, not a war situation, geeez!

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Are you serious? The whole point of successful Psychological warfare is that the victim is not able to chose whether to expose himself to it or not. At least I think that was his original point, not a war situation, geeez!

My point was that freedom of action can't be violated by psychological coercion alone.

His examples were vague and the context is not clear. For the first example he could be referring to a doctor in which case I assume he would have violated the contract he signed to help his patients. Or he could be referring to a man who has invented a vaccine that prevents a certain disease, and in this case the information would be how that vaccine is made and the context is property rights.

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Yes. Example: The character Iago in Shakespeare's Othello.

You'd have to elaborate.

There is no possible way to coerce a person without physical coercion involved. In other words, psychological coercion can only exist when combined with physical coercion. That isn't to suggest manipulating someone's feelings is a good thing. It just wouldn't be coercion. There is always a possibility to remove yourself from a situation or simply think the person is wrong. However, when a physical element is introduced, then it would become coercion (i.e. threat of abuse).

Edited by Eiuol
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Let's picture the scene of Braveheart, when the brave leader is addressing its army to fight the English, and shouts: They may take our lives, but they can't take our freedom!!

That is the context of my question.

Is it up to us to let someone hurt our mind? Is this a matter of choice?

Is it really possible for an adult man to hurt other adult man's mind without the victim's consent? Can a man initiate physchological violence without a preliminary physical violence?

Let's take a person that deliberately HIDES information that would ease the sorrow or grief of other person (e.g., not telling that her beloved one is alive, and not dead).

Let's take a government that deliberately HIDES information from the public, or DISTORT information, causing alarm or panic among the public, and support for its policies .

Or let's take this more frequent situation: a person is ostracized by the rest of his colleagues at work, say because of his race, religion, sexual preference, or whatever. They decide to bully him, mock at him, and put him under stress though a myriad of small actions, each of which does not constitute by itself an act of physical violence. Certainly, he could quit and look for another job where he finds people that shares his values and can have a more cooperative attitude. But getting another job may be very difficult in many circumstnaces, so that this man will have to ENDURE this social situation for a while, say, some months. During that period, would you say that these unfriendly colleagues are exerting PSYCHOLOGICAL violence against him? Are these man's rights being violated?

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Let's picture the scene of Braveheart, when the brave leader is addressing its army to fight the English, and shouts: They may take our lives, but they can't take our freedom!!

That is the context of my question.

Is it up to us to let someone hurt our mind? Is this a matter of choice?

Is it really possible for an adult man to hurt other adult man's mind without the victim's consent? Can a man initiate physchological violence without a preliminary physical violence?

Let's take a person that deliberately HIDES information that would ease the sorrow or grief of other person (e.g., not telling that her beloved one is alive, and not dead).

Let's take a government that deliberately HIDES information from the public, or DISTORT information, causing alarm or panic among the public, and support for its policies .

Or let's take this more frequent situation: a person is ostracized by the rest of his colleagues at work, say because of his race, religion, sexual preference, or whatever. They decide to bully him, mock at him, and put him under stress though a myriad of small actions, each of which does not constitute by itself an act of physical violence. Certainly, he could quit and look for another job where he finds people that shares his values and can have a more cooperative attitude. But getting another job may be very difficult in many circumstnaces, so that this man will have to ENDURE this social situation for a while, say, some months. During that period, would you say that these unfriendly colleagues are exerting PSYCHOLOGICAL violence against him? Are these man's rights being violated?

In response to the last elaborate example, the answer is no, his rights are not being violated. Rights only pertain to freedom of action, so long as man is free to act, his rights are not being violated.

There is a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where the author explains how you are free to choose your response to stimulus. He is not an Objectivist but it's a very interesting book.

For example, if you are driving along and a car cuts you up and honks his horn at you, you can decide to get angry and let it affect you, or choose to ignore it. Or with your example at work and people are ridiculing me because I am atheist, I can choose to ignore it or let it affect me. Sure they are abusing me, but I can let it affect me or not. And even if I do let it affect me, I freely chose to let it and freely chose to remain at that company.

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I know people who could cause you stress without ever threatening violence or constraining your freedom of action in any way. Done the proper way for long enough I am confident that they could cause psychological harm. However, that possibility relies on the targets inability to control his own mental state. Now that (controlling ones mental state) is nowhere as easy as some people seem to think it is. If it were easy psychology wouldn’t be the billion dollar industry that it is.

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Certainly, he could quit and look for another job where he finds people that shares his values and can have a more cooperative attitude. But getting another job may be very difficult in many circumstnaces, so that this man will have to ENDURE this social situation for a while, say, some months.
But what if that new job isn't perfect -- maybe the boss has unreasonable demands, the customers are idiots, the pay isn't good? He could quit this, new imperfect job but finding the perfect job might take some time, and the interim he will have to endure the imperfections of his new job. Or quit and create his own company. Or whatever. The point is that life is not automatically perfect, and both with the metaphysically given and the man-made, you have to decide which choice is consistent with your ultimate goal. If you absolutely cannot tolerate red-haired women who smoke, then you absolutely should quite your job in an office full of red-haired smoking women. If you cannot tolerate people who criticize you, then quite your job where you work with a bunch of critics. If you realize that you actually can tolerate people who criticize you and that you can simply ignore the criticism, then you should keep working until you locate that ideal job.

Violence is a specific kind of physical force. Force is physical; that means that there is no such thing as "psychological violence". Next thing we'll hear is that failure to agree with your co-workers is a kind of "psychological violence".

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Sure they are abusing me, but I can let it affect me or not.

Thanks everyone for your insights and answers.

Some of you have accepted that it would be wrong to do this bullying, lieing, or manipulation of feelings and information, although not necessarily violating anyone rights but it is wrong nevertheless.

Bourcet says "sure they are abusing me, but..."

Is a man who repeatidely insults or bully other man "abusing" him? Or is this a sort of self-abuse (meaning the person who insults is the one that is harming its own mind and character)

If this is the case, then the Law could not use force to retaliate, as this would be a self-inflicted harm.

But if my insults or bullying or lies or hidding of information does harm other people, then the Law could be expected to retaliate. Am I right? But then, how could I prove objectively that I was hurt? By means of a psychological test? We know that psyhologists can make judgements on psychic harm being caused on people.

If I decide to walked naked on the street, and the police arrests me, no one could make a case accusing me of having harmed their minds or violated their rights. Could they?.

I have the right to walk naked, and they have the right to think or feel whathever their minds want to think or feel. Some will laugh, some will think I am insane and go back quickly to their own business, some will be amused and take a photo of me, some will be horrified... even some would be sexually aroused (why not?) So, with so many different effects on so many different people, on what charge should I be arrested?

If I publish a cartoon depicting Mohammed raping a girl in a Turkish newspaper, and many Muslim believers feel rage and horror, can they accuse me of having hurted them mentally? A neutral, non-Muslim observer could say that devote Muslim believers cannot easily escape from their mindset and just abandon their beliefs and feelings toward whom they consider a prophet of God. Some would argue that they are not really free to escape that horror, at least not within the timeframe of seconds or minutes needed to take a look at the cartoon and react to them. They will be in pain, and I deliberately provoked that. I invaded their intimate personal space, their mental horizon of events, as they never expected to find that cartoon that day in the newspaper and they could not have avoided that.

What do you think?

Edited by Hotu Matua
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You'd have to elaborate.

There is no possible way to coerce a person without physical coercion involved. In other words, psychological coercion can only exist when combined with physical coercion. That isn't to suggest manipulating someone's feelings is a good thing. It just wouldn't be coercion. There is always a possibility to remove yourself from a situation or simply think the person is wrong. However, when a physical element is introduced, then it would become coercion (i.e. threat of abuse).

I answered only a portion of the many questions. "Can a man inflict damage to other man's mind without his consent? I am thinking, for example, in a man or group that denies access to information that is vital for the survival or development of other man." Fraud is not coercion, true. But fraud prevents the victim from dealing with reality, which is the same fundamental description of what happens when a victim is coerced. Force and fraud can be described as metaphysical and epistemological attacks upon a mind's relation to reality.

Muslims have no basis for claiming to be hurt by newspaper cartoons. There is no coercion and no deception involved.

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Or take this, which is also very common:

Someone sues you for having committed a crime that you did not commit. The guy suing you publish all kind of lies in newspapers, and in TV shows, to "destroy your reputation".

You go to court and you win. The bad guy has to pay the cost of your lawyer and all expenses related to the legal process.

But beyond that, do you have the right to ask for a compensation for the "damage" to your reputation? (for this excercise, suppose you did not suffer other indiret economic losses. Suppose you are just under suspicion by anyone else in your community, and you are not trusted anymore).

Is the "victim" entitled to request the " bad guy" to go back to the TV show and repent in public, or publish a note in the newspapers acknowledging his error?

Or could this "bad guy" state that, other than paying the costs of the legal process, he has no obligation to make any public statement, as anyone on Earth can publicly tell lies about anyone else, as long as no physical force is involved?

Should you be able to sue someone for taking a photo of you, and photoshopping it so that it appears as if you are cheating your wife, or stealing something, and then publish it in your Internet community?

In the end, is your reputation really yours (your property) or is reputation something that belong to the psyche of others (the image that people in contact with you make of yourself for themselves)?

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Muslims have no basis for claiming to be hurt by newspaper cartoons. There is no coercion and no deception involved.

I agree, Grames. There is no coercion and no deception involved. But there is a deliberate generation of pain in other human being.

Does mental suffering have a physical, neurophysiological base? Sure it does. Beyond some level, it could be detected in a imaging test, or measuring neurotrasmitters.

It is not like accidentally stepping on someone's toes.

It is deliberately stepping on someone's toes.

Sure, in my example I never touched the Muslim's toes, but I touched their brains, their hypotalamus, whatever section of the brain cortex involved. I spoiled their morning, or at least one hour of their lives.

If I steal one dollar from your pocket, I will be damaging your property even if it is just one dollar: I am violating a right.

If I step on your big toe, I will be damaging your body even if it is just one big toe: I am violating a right.

And then, what about spoiling one your mornings by showing you a cartoon making ridicule of your mother, causing you rage, nausea, horror? Am I not damaging your mind and your life, even if it is for one single hour of a single morning? Am I not violating a right? Specificaly, the right to live and pursuit your hapiness free from interference? Is my interference OK if it is small? Is it OK if I just give you a little bit of trouble, put a little obstacle in your way, as long as it is little enough?

Edited by Hotu Matua
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You'd have to elaborate.

There is no possible way to coerce a person without physical coercion involved. In other words, psychological coercion can only exist when combined with physical coercion. That isn't to suggest manipulating someone's feelings is a good thing. It just wouldn't be coercion. There is always a possibility to remove yourself from a situation or simply think the person is wrong. However, when a physical element is introduced, then it would become coercion (i.e. threat of abuse).

But Fraud is a form a coercion, and it involves persuasion not physical force.

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There is no possible way to coerce a person without physical coercion involved. In other words, psychological coercion can only exist when combined with physical coercion. That isn't to suggest manipulating someone's feelings is a good thing. It just wouldn't be coercion. There is always a possibility to remove yourself from a situation or simply think the person is wrong. However, when a physical element is introduced, then it would become coercion (i.e. threat of abuse).

I think you make a crucial identification. That's how I've always thought about the issue, and I think it fits in well with how it is defined legally in most uses of psychological manipulation.

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I agree, Grames. There is no coercion and no deception involved. But there is a deliberate generation of pain in other human being.

This is an appeal to a primacy of consciousness perspective, treating subjective mental states as more important than reality. Rights are objective, not subjective.

I despise Islam. My continued existence is a deliberate infliction of pain in other human beings. Fuck them and their precious feelings.

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I think you make a crucial identification. That's how I've always thought about the issue, and I think it fits in well with how it is defined legally in most uses of psychological manipulation.

Hold on, I agree that's the most literal definition, the most likely to be able to present legally. But we are looking for the truth here, not quotes carved in stone (I believe Objectivism is expressly against it).

However, and unlike the Warlord, the Priest exerted his power through fear. That's the basic of 10.000 years of human religion. Would that qualify as "psychological coercion" or as fraud. And in thae latter case we'll have to agree that fraud may exist without coercion, or rather that fraud isn't itself a form of coercion.

Edited by volco
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Are you serious? The whole point of successful Psychological warfare is that the victim is not able to chose whether to expose himself to it or not. At least I think that was his original point, not a war situation, geeez!

I think you're making a big leap here. Psychological warfare can and generally does occur without the use of force. Now, I'm sure there are some heavy examples, such as shooting someone in the head--or the modern Iraqi alternative, to cut off someone's head with a dull knife--that have been used throughout history, but most forces have constraints that don't allow them to coerce. For example, a military force dropping leaflets from an airplane, dispersing money and food, and building schools can affect the choices of a population, but those are simply methods of persuasion, not coercion.

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