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Coercive places

Thursday, September 22, 2016 12:01
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He was drinking his tea. He would have preferred not to. But the spirit of the place was coercive.
Ford Madox Ford
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.

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