Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Thoughts on Oppression

Originally posted on February 26, 2015

I have mixed feelings about this term. I just gave a talk on “oppression” and emphasized the milder forms. The term is evocative. I certainly concede that “oppression” is an apt word when it comes to a wide variety of political policies or social norm enforced by mobs or the police who are willing to use violent means to obtain their ends. However, it is misleading because it misdirects the kinds of micro-quasi-oppressions that require slavishness or the collaboration of the oppressed to be effective.

I’ve found a number of words that relate and may be equally potent for the mid-range of mild to moderate oppression: Entitlement, empowerment, marginalization, privilege—these words seem closer to the point, more mid-level. They demand a bit more rational analysis.

Oppression is associated semantically with more direct violence, but much of the phenomena that happens that might be mis-classified under oppression. But nobody’s stopping people from asserting their own authority and power! That’s the problem.

It’s true that slave revolts have in history been put down ruthlessly and with great cruelty. It’s also true that some slave revolts have succeeded. Short of official slavery backed by the power of the military, many small quasi-enslavements require the submission of the enslaved more than the power of the slaver. Women’s liberation is often more in this direction, and that middle area or even milder is part of what I’m talking about.

In a hundred ways people imagined their powerlessness when in fact what’s at stake, what’s going on, is more that the fantasy that the mean ol’ masters will reform rather than the daring that one must strike out and determine one’s own destiny.

Passover’s coming. The Last Supper in Christianity may have been a Passover celebration. It’s the oldest known ritual, celebrating the liberation of the Israelites or Hebrew Children—note the infantilization there—from slavery under the Pharaohs. It all may not have happened, you know. The whole story is about 400 years old, incorporated into the beginnings of the writings of the source history of the nation of Judea before it got conquered by the Persians—the foundations of the quasi-theocracy of that tiny middle-eastern kingdom in the earlier part of the millennium before the common era. Legends were piled upon legends and it’s pretty clear that these many stories were far from codified as a single text until maybe a century or two before the common millennium. A lot can happen during this transition. But okay, say it happened the way it is said to have happened.

Even then, there’s a deep lesson, mainly that the liberation from slavery was by no means a liberation from the slave mentality of the people. One story notes that one of the reasons the Hebrew Children wandered for 40 years in the desert was that Moses darn well knew these slave mentality parents didn’t have the gumption to fight for what Moses called the promised land. (A friend offered another more orthodox reason about disobeying the Lord, but I chose to ignore it. I should confess that there are other interpretations, though! The one I’m offering here is by no means standard. It’s just interesting.)

Please note that the Canaanites and other peoples had established themselves as peaceful entities, part of whom were the Phoenicians who had been colonizing trading centers around the Mediterranean, and this crazy outside tribe came riding up and proclaimed, “Our God promised this land to us. Y’all get out or we’ll kill you!” And they did, too, they slaughtered everyone, the cattle too! Why the cattle? God said kill the cattle. They were invaders as savage as Genghis Khan or Tamerlane. Of course we know them as the good guys because our majority religion derives from their religion and sacred book, so they must be blessed by the Judeo-Christian God, but back then there wasn’t such a consensus and the future Israelite Tribes were the devil’s band themselves.

Read those early tracts and you get a neo-Fascist state that is totalitarian to the max, more than any modern totalitarian state. A totalitarian state is one in which the governing powers that be, in the Israelite case, the theocracy, backed by the civil power of the monarchy, had control over the totality of everyone’s lives. Since these were—they said—God’s rules, they were just carrying them out—this theocracy are as most folks agree, good guys, good being God combined with an OO, as in “oooh, it’s God, so it’s Good, oooh” which means “Don’t even question our authority or well kill you slowly and painfully by stoning you to death!”  Oooh turns into owww pretty quickly.

Alas, I have reflected on the history of my own people and have found it to be occasionally wise, and unfortunately victimized for the last 2/3 of its existence, but in the early years they were a pretty nasty tribe to have as even distant neighbors. Self-righteous and destructive. It’s appalling what thinking God is on your side can justify.

Then comes Christianity, which is really a sort of reform Judaism at first, really just the teachings of a prophet who tried to emphasize the pro-social elements; then the prophet was deified; then kings used this Deity to be savagely nasty to neighbors. Folks were savagely nasty to each other and they had various rationales, from we are bringing civilization and order to we don’t need no damn rationale, we’re here and we’re just damn well taking over. Give us your taxes. It was a phase in what later came to be called civilization. Actually, it was more civilized than all the conquered tribes who fought each other for all sorts of weaker reasons.

The point is that there are about fifteen grades of civilization, and the first ten would be seen today as pretty savage. We’re about the 12th and there are three grades beyond us. Maybe the numbers are wrong—it doesn’t matter. The point is that I’m encouraging folks to dare consider that there well might be three levels of civilization beyond us as far as we are beyond, say, feudalism and kings and knights having at each other just to gain more land and taxes. And believe me, this level was more civilized than whatever bandit-gang-overlord was running things before them.  In this scene, the basis for the Holy Book of the West was born of the 6th through the 8th level of civilization. But people still harken back to it as a source of wisdom and goodness, which is why we’re not 13th.

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