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  • Writer's pictureRon Budd

The Modality of Coercion

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Modal verbs are a category of auxiliary verbs that serve to express various modalities. It may initially seem unconventional to include "coercion" among these modalities, so let's explore this idea from the beginning. The term "modal verb" refers to a specific type of verb used to convey modality. Some common modalities associated with these verbs include obligation, possibility, advice, permission, and ability. However, this is just a brief list; more comprehensive compilations include modalities such as capacity and suggestion. It's essential to note that modal verbs are never used in isolation but are always paired with an unconjugated verb. For example, consider the sentence: "I have to go to work today." In this case, "have to" and "go to" are paired to create the complete modality of obligation.

While I won't delve further into the intricacies of modal verbs here, you can easily find comprehensive information on this topic by conducting a quick online search. However, what I want to emphasize in the following paragraphs is the noticeable absence of the term "coercion" from most lists of modalities.

You might wonder, "Why is this omission significant?" Here's my argument: Coercion is an undeniable aspect of real-world experiences. At times, coercion is deemed justifiable, as when a prisoner is compelled to clean their cell. Conversely, it can also be unjustified, as when a law-abiding citizen is forced to engage in actions that contradict their values or conscience. I intentionally crafted the previous sentence with ambiguity, reflecting the complexities surrounding coercion, especially in the present political climate.

Yet, the exclusion of "coercion" from lists of modalities strikes me as intentional or at the very least, indicative of a lack of clarity. Coercive situations are ubiquitous and diverse. If one is not cognizant of coercion, they may unwittingly become its victim. In George Orwell's novel "1984," the Ministry of Truth actively manipulated the English lexicon to prevent certain ideas from being discussed or even contemplated. Words are the fundamental units of ideas, and a limited vocabulary constrains one's consciousness. The absence of "coercion" from any list of modalities raises concerns and leaves me somewhat bewildered.

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