Friday, June 3, 2016

Recreating oppression

I've become aware that one of the major factors that perpetuates the operation of oppression in societies is how incredibly often well intentioned people who believe they are advocating for an oppressed group...will...inadvertently or carelessly or obliviously (or un somethingly)  engage in activities that are harmful or oppressive to some other group. The various campaigns that PETA has engaged in over the years is an obvious example of this narrow obliviousness of caring or of comprehension.

I've been guilty (and probably will be again in the future, sigh) of this sort of warped lack of almost appears as if we believe that if our intentions and/or goals are good or desirable or "pure" then somehow whatever path we take to move toward those ends is automatically exempt from being harmful or dubious or undesirable.

If my intentions or goals are pure or good...then I can do no wrong in pursuit of them. When I write it looks goofy as hell...but...all you have to do is look around and see instances of this type flawed detachment driving behavior occurring all over the place both currently and historically

Come to think of it...that sort of disconnect between saying and doing may be a core foundational organizing principle of this nation. We are taught to go into a reverential swoon at the words "All men are created equal" while ignoring that these words were written and promoted by white men who were diligently engaged in murdering and stealing land from the original human inhabitants of the North American continent and also engaging in the practices of human enslavement. While their words were inspiring...their behavior was appalling.

They seemed to have good intentions and's just ignore their actual behavior.

Here's one source that documents that 41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence enslaved human beings...not to mention their support of and participation in an ongoing war of conquest and theft against the original human inhabitants of this continent. 

That's almost 75% of those who avowed that "all men are created equal" were saying this while enslaving human beings. And yet...we're taught to almost deify these white men...these "founding fathers"...we're taught to revere people based on what they say....not what they do. That's our "heritage". 

I've written in various posts in this blog about my adventures in trying to advocate for veganism without being disrespectful or oppressive toward other beings. I've personally experienced the blowback that can occur when triggering white anxieties about "goodness". Instead of struggling to comprehend what was happening, some "good" white vegans summarily dismissed me from a vegan group.

White fragility is a very real and powerful dynamic that pervades U.S. culture. And...when it's triggered...really ugly things can happen. (A philosophy professor, Cori Wong, suggested that maybe there's an epistemology of ignorance associated with each system (or "ism") of oppression. I think she might be right and I suspect there is also a "fragility" syndrome associated with each system of oppression. Much more work needs to be done in enhancing understanding about these sorts of phenomena.)

It almost seems like we sort of believe that pursuing "good" in one area means it's impossible for us to behave horridly in pursuit of that "good". And...any suggestion that our pursuit of a "good" might be being done badly or poorly is occasion for outrage and indignation instead of a signal for time to do lots of thinking and contemplating. Here in the U.S. we seem (white people anyway) to be firmly committed to talking one way and behaving in another way.

This whole weirdness of recreating oppression while endeavoring to interrupt it deeply perplexes me. Not that I think there's some mythical place or way of being wherein someone can exist in pure "innocence" or anything...but...jeez. Way way too often efforts to prevent or interrupt or reduce oppression magically morphs into recreating oppression in some other form or fashion. Ought not our goal to be stop or resist oppression without engaging in oppression against other victims?

Maybe we have big problems doing that not by accident but rather because we're carefully taught to be unaware of this sort of process?

So very often the recreation of oppression is absolutely unnecessary and avoidable...with some (sometimes easy but sometimes difficult) thought and consideration. But...that fact seems invisible to us. 

For those of us who've been immersed in the 'white' viewpoint and have benefited from that set of systemic operations...struggling to opt out of it can be difficult and is also true that clarity of comprehension often entails much effort and difficulty no matter what the task or goal might be.

Here's one set of observations that seem very important if I'm interested in opposing harm without recreating harm. I have some thoughts about the main principle involved here (those with power not having the standing to indicate what's not oppressive) that I'll elaborate more on in another post.
These observations seem pretty straight forward...but...they reference a way of understanding oppression that I had never thought seriously and deeply about. In retrospect...and...part of the reason I had never thought about it was because my culture absolutely doesn't encourage me to pay attention to these factors.

In fact, my culture tends to punish anyone who tries to implement these sorts of ways of comprehending and behaving. Demonizing and/or blaming the victim(s) of oppression seems to be a core feature of American society...especially if interrupting and/or ameliorating that oppression entails a re-evaluation of what's considered to be "normal". Wikipedia's entry on victim blaming contains this assertion:  "Victim blaming is common around the world, especially in cultures where it is socially acceptable and advised to treat certain groups of people as lesser."

Note that "socially acceptable and advised" is just another way of saying "normal". Victim blaming is common in cultures where some groups are viewed as "lesser"...and...where other groups are viewed as dominant or "superior".

If I slap your face...I'm not the one who get's to decide whether the slap hurt you or not...that's your call...not mine. Jeez. That's not hard to understand but I have to admit...depressingly...that looking at things from that viewpoint simply eluded me way way too often. The breadth of my obliviousness staggers me at times. 

When I look at the kind of messaging that goes on in U.S. society...I realize that we are definitely not taught to think that all. Indeed...we are encouraged to believe if we say the right words...and/or belong to a dominant group...then if our behavior is deplorable or atrocious it should be ignored and/or defended.

What kind of bizarre crap is that?  

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