Monday, December 3, 2012

Guilt as Coercion

Quick show of hands: how many of you have made a mad dash for the florist after inelegantly cramming a freshly-polished Chuck Taylor in your gob? If I can eventually reject the null hypothesis that n of you=0, then the probability that somewhere between one and all (both?) of my readers understand that the coercing party to a trade ain't the party of the first part nor the party of the second part. It's pretty often the party of the aggrieved part, no matter how illusory might that grievance be.

Case number one: Mr. Sperlonjohannssenmannvich had to stay late to finish up a report on the Vickers account and missed Sally's flute recital. Racked with guilt, he buys her a puppy and the latest Pet Shop Boys LP (ha ha anachronism).

Case numero dos: Pablo Morales has been growing coffee since he was knee-high to Juan Valdez's trusty burro (¡Disfrute de un buen cafĂ©!), and Calpurnia Pisonis of Rome, GA just saw a nicely-done documentary on Netflix about how Pablo is being exploited by the coffee exchanges in Buenos Aires. Aghast, filled to the brim with twenty years' guilt over taking coffee growers for a ride, she pledges to switch to Fair Trade (a registered trademark of the Fairtrade Foundation) Coffee.

Cases one and dos rely on similar perceptions. Sally's stoicism precludes her from crying to daddy about his neglect, meaning that he's apologizing to an avatar he created ex ante to head off hurt feelings at the pass. Calpurnia likewise needs no actual contact with Pablo to "know" that he's being ripped off by his chosen trade. Guilt in each case is compelling a voluntary trade (one for a puppy/vinyl combo, the other for fresh-roasted whole bean aromas), so there's not too much for a euvoluntaryist to bellyache about here.

But wait! There's more!

Case 3: K.L. Giffins has a line of clothing manufactured in the Gabonese Republic. The Grey Lady gets wind of the factory conditions and for a solid week, the Times' Op-ed page is flush with calls for immediate and unequivocal boycott. Loyal readers comply over the pitiful objections of a few crank economists.

Case five: Collective guilt over the institution of slavery leads the US Congress to "repatriate" former slaves to the newly sovereign nation of Liberia.

These cases take the intuitions underpinning the first two and apply them with less finesse. Consider the difference between the coffee and the t-shirts: Pablo could at least apply for fair-trade status if he thought it worth the effort. Giffins and her employees are just plain sunk. The alternatives for the java are: a) stay in business and make traditional ICO rates or b) hop on the Fair Trade streetcar and make their rates. The alternatives for Giffins is to a) try to mollify customers somehow or b) shutter the factory. If it's unprofitable to do (a), then it's back to... use your imagination... for the former seamstresses.

The less said about Liberia, the better.

So, it seems that at the appropriate scale, guilt probably serves as a decent enough sentiment to compel us to deeds that serve our interests. Start down the trail of collectivizing and enforcing it, and pretty soon, we leave the vale of euvoluntarity behind and may end up with bloodthirsty tyrants like Chuck Charles Taylor brought up on crimes against humanity.

Beware guilt, for she is as fire.

1 comment:

  1. I understand the difference between cases one and two and cases three and five, but I don't think any of them are euvoluntary, since they involve coercion by circumstance, and I don't mean BATNA.

    Making a mistake, feeling guilty, and trying to make it better means you're "coerced" (air quotes) by society and the impartial spectator which it hath wrought. The exchange with the florist is not euvoluntary.

    Does bring up the question of whether euvoluntarity can be brought within the individual (intraction? internal transaction?) or is a wholly social concept.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?