• Jocelyn Ryder

Capitalism, Crime, and Coercion

From the time I was aware that people were incarcerated, I wanted to know why. First I was told that people make mistakes. But, my child mind knew there was something before "mistake" and "crime."

When I quit using drugs and alcohol as coping strategies, I saw the effects of substance abuse everywhere, and thought addiction was the ultimate foe. Then, like many folks, I attributed criminal behavior to mental illness. Because no one in their "right mind" would do terrible things that hurt others.

It wasn't until a decade ago, when I joined the womanalive Violating Intervention and Prevention Program, that the answer became clear. Before people commit a crime or make a mistake, they make a decision. They might not be conscious of that decision. Usually, behavior is so deeply ingrained in us from familial training and social conditioning, that it can be difficult to determine how a decision is made. Since my early life was marred by financial instability, parental abuse, neglect, and sexual assault, I learned to meet my needs however I could. Many of us high ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) scorers prove the axiom that "hurt people hurt people." In short: Before I found intervention, I would control and coerce others to ensure my needs were met.

It's kind of like capitalism, except that with capitalism need and want are fused together as one thing, which they are not. The head of a corporation is a person who wants something, and it is the corporate machinery they employ that creates a consumer "need."

One of my favorite films is The Corporation, released in 2003. The film sought to determine, if corporations are people (as Chief Justice Morrison Waite stated in an 1886 Supreme Court decision: corporations as "persons" have the same rights as human beings, based on the Fourteenth Amendment), what kind of people are they? Psychology professor and Federal Bureau of Investigation consultant Robert D. Hare determined that many American corporations share the DSM-IV's psychopathy diagnosis:

  • Callous disregard for the feelings of other people

  • Incapacity to maintain human relationships

  • Reckless disregard for the safety of others

  • Deceitfulness (continual lying to deceive for profit)

  • Incapacity to experience guilt

  • Failure to conform to social norms and respect the law

(need transition here. Talk about accountability, how corporations aren't held accountable, but individuals are--usually individuals who have many fewer resources than the wealthy and privileged. Their resources are so controlled and coerced that they often lose sight of their own agency. And why not, all of the government "help" they receive tries to put them into a white-supremacist notion of "normalcy", in which anything that isn't white is an aberration to be corrected.)

[Isn't the "mistake" getting caught? as a participant that I began to understand the violence built in to our culture and society. Especially in the U.S., we are used to a capitalist society, which means that the people with the most money seem to have authority over everyone else. This is a clear case of coercive prevalence. In other words, when those with the most resources can determine the course of elections, government, and society, the rest of us are coerced to fall in line. On an interpersonal level, this presents as violating self, partners, family, and community.]

On a macro level, a very small portion of the world's population owns an outsized share of financial resources. According to an Oxfam report released in 2017, collective earnings of these billionaires could end extreme poverty seven times over. “The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. “The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited.”

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