Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Nasty Post I

There will be more nasty posts in this new series, which is based on the idea that I got of collecting all the things that keep irritating me like a pebble in my shoe, things which keep happening over and over without anyone correcting them much, things which are like frogs leaping out of the mouths of otherwise intelligent people (this being a reference to fairy tales).

I recently read a comment somewhere about how the oppressors are white Christian heterosexual men and how everyone else should join forces against them and that way we would win. This is terribly simplistic for several reasons:

First, we all have the ability to be oppressors, given the opportunity to be so. There was a time when the Irish attacked the shores of Britain to capture slaves for themselves. Then later the British enslaved the Irish and so on. History can tell us that the once oppressed can quickly become oppressors when the tables are turned.

This is why I find the victim-focused or the oppressor-focused approaches insufficient without a long and hard look at what makes people oppress other people in the first place. True, writing boring theory is -- boring -- but I see no way around that problem.

Second, being oppressed doesn't necessarily make a person good, kind and otherwise fascinating. Being oppressed can also make a person bitter and vindictive or most likely just down-trodden, passive and hopeless. To expect that the oppressed are saintly creatures is really very insulting. Should women have equality ONLY if they are much, much better people than men? Yet I read a lot on the web based on the idea that all victims are very good people. Many of them are, of course, and many also learn from their own oppression to have empathy towards others who are in pain. But many are just plain nasty and still deserve not to be oppressed.

Third, and this appears a large surprise to quite a few if what I read on the net reflects reality: The different groups of the oppressed are perfectly able and often willing to have prejudices about each other. It's not exactly secret that the women of Palestine are treated as lesser creatures by the men of Palestine, for example, and it's not exactly the case that a feminist can never be a racist or homophobic and so on.

This point came up rather sharply when Proposition 8 passed in California last week, thus banning same-sex marriage, when it turned out that the decisive votes for its passing were those given by African-American voters, three quarters of whom supported it. Several blog comments threads on this topic turned out into odd debates about who it was who should really be blamed for the passing of Proposition 8, in terms of race and religion, mostly, and to me the discussions looked like an attempt to get back that thinking where all the oppressed are together and fight against not only their own oppression but that of all the other groups, too.

Which isn't exactly how the world works, sadly. For instance, study revolutions from the French Revolution onwards, and note how women participated in those revolutions and how very quickly (like in a second) the post-revolution setup pushed women back into their old oppressions or something not much different.

None of this cynicism is intended to argue that groups shouldn't build alliances or work together, because those are good ideas. What's not a good idea is naivete about what lies behind these alliances.