What is Aggression? Is passive-aggressiveness as harmful as active aggression?6 min read

On the Non-Aggression Principle, we precisely defined NAP this way:

The initiation of physical force used to inflict injury against a person or damage against property, the oppression, coercion, or menace of such, or use of deception or manipulation, is an unauthorized and unwarranted use of physical power, or power exerted against another’s will or consent.

Here I want to discuss something that few libertarians really deal with and that’s the differences between passive and active aggression. Passive aggression is often looked upon in society as an annoyance rather than actual aggression. In fact, it’s preferred to active aggression because passive aggressive people actually believe that they are masters of controlling expressions of their anger. It is generally true in our society that expressions of anger are a sign of irrationality, lack of self-regulation, and ultimately unjustifiable. This taboo creates a breeding ground for passive-aggressive behavior.

But as we’ll see, whether passive or active, it’s aggression and it’s a violation this libertarian axiom.

Extracting active aggression from NAP:

The initiation of physical force used to inflict injury against a person or damage against property, the oppression, coercion, or menace of such, or use of deception or manipulation, is an unauthorized and unwarranted use of physical power, or power exerted against another’s will or consent.

We actually know active aggression quite well; it’s obvious! Assault, rape, theft, vandalism, murder, are all forms of active aggression. It’s physical, visible, and self-evident.

Extracting passive aggression from NAP:

The initiation of physical force used to inflict injury against a person or damage against property, the oppression, coercion, or menace of [a person or their property], or use of deception or manipulation, is an unauthorized and unwarranted use of physical power, or power exerted against another’s will or consent.

Oppress: keep (someone) in subservience and hardship, especially by the unjust exercise of authority.
Coerce: persuade (an unwilling person) to do something by using force or threats.
Menace: threaten, especially in a malignant or hostile manner.
Deceive: cause (someone) to believe something that is not true, typically in order to gain some personal advantage.
Manipulate: control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.

Harriet Braiker writes,

“…passive-aggressive individuals … display their own hostility or aggression through passive rather than over, actively aggressive means. However, through their passive resistance to the demands or needs of others, they often elicit extreme frustration and eventually evoke* overt hostility in others. The most common maneuvers of a passive-aggressive personality are procrastination, dawdling, stubbornness, intentional inefficiency, and forgetfulness … The modus operandi for resisting is to ‘forget’ a deadline, miss meetings, and delay and procrastinate until those who are depending on him or her become frustrated and enraged … Ultimately, [they] will manipulate others into making fewer and fewer demands on her because the emotional cost of relying on her is too great.”

*evocation: his or her traits or actions elicit predictable reactions in others.

Aggression as an iceberg

It’s well-known that the visible part of an iceberg is a relatively small portion. If we understand analogously that aggression is an iceberg, active aggression (or the visible aspect) is only the tip and the remaining unseen aspect is passive-aggression. And passive-aggression is no less aggression (and therefore no less harmful). On the contrary, passive-aggression is easily more damaging as it occurs subversively, under the surface.

Resources & Further Reading

  1. https://www.etymonline.com/word/aggression 
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201406/passive-aggressive-vs-assertive-behavior-in-relationships
  3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201307/the-passive-aggressive-conflict-cycle
  4. https://www.amazon.com/Whos-Pulling-Your-Strings-Manipulation/dp/0071446729

Kerry Baldwin |  

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