It’s not extortion if you’re already being extorted
Let’s call it “contra-extortion” to avoid confusing it with the real thing.
Appearances can be deceiving
“Isn’t that extortion?”
That’s the oft-reply I get when speaking my truth to power and insisting they respond favorably to my cause, perhaps even financially.
“How can it be extortion,” I ask, “if I’m already being subtly extorted by them?”
When overgeneralizing for relief, we tend to get things painfully backwards. Anakelogy calls it “contra-conflict” when consciously opposing something in a way that actually reinforces it. Mindlessly opposing extortion can actually enable a privileged form of extortion.
Distinguishing contra-extortion from real extortion
In contrast to the explicit crime of extortion, consider how in your situation:
You’re trapped in a working relationship with the other person or entity.
You demonstrably have less control on outcomes than the other.
The relationship pressures you to unwillingly do things or give up things.
And your “demand” responsibly resolves each other’s affected needs.
Actual extortion includes none of these. In short, this is contra-extortion. In short, that’s where opposing extortion actually reinforces it. Here, we’re talking about avoiding accusations of extortion from those in power who subtly extort from you in not so obvious ways.
1. Currently committed
The crime of extortion typically applies to a targeted person or entity you have no current relation. If you do, you have the freedom to leave at any time.
By contrast, you find yourself trapped in this relationship. You can’t get out, in part because of losses you’ve endured from its toxic influence over you.
If it’s your job and you’re barely living paycheck to paycheck, you can’t simply quit. If you’re strapped with a felony record—however just or unjustly—you’re unlikely to find another employer willing to hire you. So you feel stuck. You need this option.
2. Power imbalance
The crime of extortion typically targets someone vulnerable to being influenced. You hold some exploitive power over them.
By contrast, you have less control. You are the vulnerable one exposed to someone with relative authority over you. They’re the one with more influence, more control over your situation.
You likely acquiesce to terms more favorable to your employer, to your landlord, to creditors with their complicated terms of service, and to many others with well-greased legal departments. You may know your rights, while realistic about how well they’re protected in the adversarial justice process facing their highly paid lawyers.
You need this alternative. Litigation expects you to fit into the power struggle of plaintiff versus defendant. Court battles replicate power imbalances, to relieve the pain of the winning side, almost always at the expense of the losing party. You know firsthand it’s better to mutually respect and address each other’s needs. Not judicial win-lose, but proactive win-win.
3. Coerced losses
The crime of extortion typically involves a threat of real loss to the victim. The threat coerces the target to give up something of value in exchange for money or something else of value.
By contrast, you’ve given up too much. You’ve caved into pressures to comply with their threatening and yet privileged demands. You adjust to losses out of fear of losing even more. Until you adjust to the point you have next to nothing to give anymore.
Forced into a dead-end job, your wellbeing falls apart. You struggle with economic anxiety. You take meds for depression. You cope with a toxic work environment with alcohol, or worse. You may even question what’s the point of living.
You need this option to turn your life around, to reclaim what you cannot afford to lose. And to help other similarly situated. Your employer and others of toxic influence need you to take this option. They need to turn around any threats to your wellbeing, before they lose you and others like you.
4. Mutual benefit
The crime of extortion typically benefits oneself in exchange for something the other, at best, only artificially needs. It creates an unhealthy power imbalance, the very thing you’re trying to counteract.
By contrast, you seek healthy balance. You’re trying to turn a challenging power imbalance—where you’re already the coaxed one—into mutual opportunities. Inviting them to support your cause is mere icing on the cake. Not a condition threatening their compliance.
The consequence you impose is to abruptly remove yourself from the damaging relationship. And to be transparent as to why. Something you’re bound to do anyway, but this time with attention called to the unpleasant conditions forcing your departure.
You do this not only for yourself but for vulnerable others. While potentially threatening to a business’s reputation, calling this extortion would allow those with power over vulnerable others to ruin such lives under threat of extortion charges.
Ironically, that would privilege extortion in the name of being against extortion. The measure applied becomes the measure replied. If it’s called extortion if you coerced money from them, why not call it extortion whey they coerce labor from you?
You need this option to address your affected needs in sync with their affected needs. If serious about preserving and improving this relationship, “extortion” has no place in the conversation. Or you may be trapped in this debilitating relation for a long, long time.
Steph Turner is the founder of anakelogy, the study of need. Also the founder of Value Relating to apply anakelogy to your painful needs with psychosociotherapy, offering a viable alternative to stigmatizing psychotherapy, by inviting you to speak your truth to power.