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Thursday, 22 September 2016

Coercive places

He was drinking his tea. He would have preferred not to. But the spirit of the place was coercive.
Ford Madox Ford - Henry for Hugh (1934)

Places certainly can be coercive; we encounter them all the time. Schools, hospitals, churches, courtrooms, police stations. They induce certain kinds of behaviour and rule out other kinds of behaviour and everyone knows which is which. Almost everyone.

Often there is official power behind the coercion and increasingly it is more overt that it was in the comparatively recent past. Notices about zero tolerance of abusive behaviour in hospitals for example. This means you. Even if you are never abusive it still means you.

It is perfectly understandable in A&E, nobody should have to put up with drunken abuse, but not so understandable in Urology where everyone sits quietly and ignores the drinking water station. I merely offer this as an example hem hem.

Those threatening notices seem to have oozed out of places where they obviously applicable into more mundane surrounding where one never seems to encounter a raised voice, let alone threatening behaviour. There are no clear caveats either, no boundary where some kind of negative behaviour is deemed acceptable. In hospitals one is left with the impression that they really mean don’t even think about criticising us even if you have been waiting for hours. As if we would. We are too polite.

As far as I can see, schools like their threatening notices too. What are they afraid of? Angry parents of course and no doubt there are appalling parents who are not fit to bring up a goldfish let alone a child, but why point the finger at everyone? Again one is left with the impression that they really mean don’t even think about criticising us even if you child isn’t receiving a particularly good education. As if we would. We are too polite.

Even roads have become coercive places, coercive ribbons of tarmac lined with directions, warnings, speed limits and cameras. Even cars are becoming coercive places with warnings about seat belts, tyre pressures and service intervals. Useful perhaps, but also coercive, part of a trend which seems unlikely to slow down. In which case we may soon be hard pushed to find places which are not coercive.

4 comments:

Sam Vega said...

I witnessed an interesting little scene yesterday. A female PCSO was walking along in front of me near where I live in Cambridge. She had attracted my attention because she seemed very young (early twenties) and was attractive. Although Cambridge is currently experiencing a lull (most tourists gone home, no undergrads yet) it it still quite a noisy place, with young people in shouty groups, chattering crowds outside cafes, etc.

An elderly man, probably homeless (we have dozens if not hundreds) was sitting on some steps. "Love, you're doin' a grand job!", he called after the PCSO. He was obviously drunk, but in no way threatening or even offensive. Just an ill-judged attempt at mateyness. Without turning or looking at him the PCSO shouted - with far greater volume - "Don't shout!". Stern, bossy, a proper little prefect in her uniform.

The drunk mumbled an apology, and fell silent.

There could have been a back-story there; who knows? But it was one of those shitty little moments that left me feeling very bleak and rather fearful about where we are all heading.

Michael said...

Much of what you say - perhaps all of it, is down to 'education', first, by parenting, then by teachers, then by bosses, and so on.

If people aren't educated in life, e.g. told not to run on the motorways, then they'll eventually learn and understand.

The coercion you describe is indeed on the increase, but most of our generation, (the sort of kids who climbed trees, got stuck in railings, ate green apples), had parents who knew how to bring up their kids.

I don't think that is as prevalent today, so some official guidance is demanded as a substitute - as in 'We was nevaaaah towld!" (When a train nearly chops them up because they're playing on the line)...

Demetrius said...

The trick is to know how to beat the system. I think that in the past because of the greater formal discipline a consequence was that a lot more people knew their way round. Today because we lack that discipline we also lack the ability to recognise and defeat the coercion.

A K Haart said...

Sam - a shitty little moment indeed. These roles are bound to attract certain kinds of people and the more roles we create the more we find out just how shitty people can be from within the shelter of an official role.

Scrobs - yes, kids have fewer opportunities to learn about risks first hand. I don't think the problem can be corrected because the issue is gradually dropping out of sight as low risk generations take over.

Demetrius - psychology probably has something to do with that. Don't tell people is the philosophy, just modify their behaviour.