Coercion, Persuasion, and Shaming: A Follow Up


I’d like to clarify some points from my last post, Shaming Others is Unjustifiable Coercion.

To address the best criticisms, I turn to my good friend Jeffrey Tucker. He’s a man for whom I have the utmost admiration, respect, and appreciation. I will never forget the fairness with which he handled his philosophical disagreement with me.

Here’s an excerpt from “Freedom and the Court of Good Taste and Manners”:

However, she goes too far in claiming that all these behaviors are not distinct from the type of behavior that pertains to the law. Smears, lies, and calumnies may be wicked, but, because possessing a human right to our reputations is untenable, they cannot be made illegal without violating the right to free speech.

I can see how it would follow that if I want to classify shaming as coercion, I want it made illegal as well, particularly if the person reading it is not an anarchist (or, if they are, that it should be protected against by some third party). But I do not. I am an anarchist, and I see clearly the horrendous, freedom-limiting unintended consequences of this. In the post I meant to try to shame or persuade individual actors into choosing not to shame. Obviously I should have just persuaded. But live and learn.

Jeffery also noted,

In addition, with a blanket condemnation of shaming, Reisenwitz would take away a major tool that we as individuals have in dealing with the problem of evil itself. We must be free to call people out for destructive behaviors that harm people. Trolls and evil doers should in fact be shamed and shunned. They should be made to feel alone and isolated so that they will pay some personal price for anti-social behavior. Society needs means to deal with trolls among us and without taking recourse to the law.

In my mind, this is the key difference between coercion and persuasion: persuasion is pointing out the natural consequences to another person of possible courses of action for them. Coercion is creating those consequences.

Creating negative consequences for cooperative behavior is a bad idea. It adds more negativity to the world. It incentivizes an individual to act not according to their better knowledge of their own situation but instead act according to your lesser knowledge of their situation. This is why I invoked the knowledge problem in my earlier post. It’s also unnecessary. Surely, if their behavior should change, it should be because there are natural consequences to it. Why not just point those out to them in an effort to help them avoid those consequences.

I can see the appeal of adding shaming to the arsenal of acceptable ways to deal with cooperative behavior which we find repugnant. But as persuasion is in no way, shape or form coercion—while shaming is coercive because it creates consequences where there were none—I think persuasion is the course of action that creates a better world for everyone.

Here are some other reactions if you’re interested: