The ability to define what is real and to use that reality to justify, defend, and advance their interests is the key to the establishment and maintenance of power by those who would seek it. Donald Trump understands that well. But it is far more than Trump. “Reality” has been used to defend and indeed prescribe the way black people have been treated for a couple of hundred years. It has justified the treatment of women, of the poor, of the disabled, of those with mental health diagnoses, of virtually everyone who is in some way different or who doesn’t “fit in.”
It provides the basis for coercion. It provides the basis for the application of power to make people do what you want them to regardless of what they want to do or would choose given the opportunity. Normally power tells you that what you are doing is in the best interests of those it is done to or that in some way they brought it upon themselves.
Coercion, in any relationship, personal or public arrangement, promotes the instability it says it avoids and justifies all manner of injury to sustain it so that power becomes a goal in and of itself.
Coercive relationships are defined by who is in charge, how that in charge is defined and justified, and what is done to maintain that power. In many instances those on the bottom are somehow blamed or been accused of making it necessary. Some symptom, some characteristic or behavior is said to have made it necessary that others exercise control over them. The most horrible oppressions are defended as being for the good of the oppressed. “Good people” rather their oppression be because of some disability or difference, because of some problems they exhibit, because of their poverty, their age, their social situation or whatever are “good” in the eyes of those with power because in some way, at least on the surface seem to recognize the legitimacy of that arrangement. Anyone who has ever been in a psychiatric hospital can tell you the premium put on “being a good patient.”
In coercive relationships there are really only three options : accept the exercise of power and control, try to escape it, or fight it.
The most readily obvious choice is to conform. Accept “reality” and the constraints placed upon you and your life. Usually when people resist conformity that resistance is normally used to justify the legitimacy of that conformity and if a little bit of force doesn’t work then more is perhaps needed.
You can try to escape but some situations are not readily escapable. Then your only way to escape may be to manipulate or lie. Tell people to their face what they want to hear but get by with what you can get by with. This may seem the best choice if the person with power has made it dangerous to tell the truth. It is not hard to think of examples. Many of us have had personal relationships where this dynamic seems appropriate. If you have had a “case manage” or “worker” somewhere in your life this may have seemed like the best choice available to you.
Fight. Do not accept coercion as legitimate or expected or justified. Expect people to treat you as a person, as more than any label attached to you or any life situation you struggle with. Expect justice and don’t give a free pass or easy road to anyone that would expect you to put up with less.
We have just witnessed what happens when people told it is inevitable that their health insurance be taken from them by what is portrayed as a legitimate act of government refuse to accept this “inevitability.” Women no longer accept it as inevitable that they will be treated as pieces of meat. The disabled are talking about their human rights. Resistance more and more is seen as a live option.
People who tell you what is real or true often do so to justify their interests, their status, their power. Always ask not just what is explained but what is justified. Be scared about what people would tell you is common sense. When we are told not just what to see but how to see we can find ourselves too easily the victim of unseen chains.