Friday, December 31, 2010

You Don't Know What Oppression Looks Like

Funny thing. You see oppression every day. And not just on the news.

You see it everywhere. It is so common that like the weather, you begin to think it just happens... that's just the way life is.

You're wrong.

Oppression isn't just the way life is.

Oppression is the life we have allowed to happen.

But before we can see the oppression, we have to open our eyes. It isn't that the oppression is that hard to see. It's that we don't want to believe what we see.

I'm sure you've heard the saying; “Where you stand on a subject depends upon where you sit.” But it is also true that; what you see depends upon what you've been led to believe you are going to see.

I will use a fictional story for an unbiased example. Most everyone has seen The Wizard of Oz. Remember the “Good” Witch? She may actually be the greatest movie villain of all time. How? The “Good” Witch framed Dorothy as the murderer of the Wicked Witch of the East (though it was an accidental death, when her house fell on the WW of the East). The “Good” Witch steals the only remaining possession of the WW of the East (her shoes) and superglues them to Dorothy's feet. The “Good” Witch rejoices in taunting the grieving WW of the West while she has no power in Munchinland. And even though all Dorothy wants is to go home (and is wearing the shoes that could get her home), the “Good” Witch sends Dorothy away from the safety of Munchinland to eventually kill the WW of the West too. There is more. But I think I've made my point.

We saw the “Good” Witch as good in the Wizard of Oz, because that's what we believed we would see. Even though there were many instances where, had we have been looking from a different perspective, we would have seen her as far more wicked than the Wicked Witch of the West. At least the WW of the West had a reason for being angry. She believed her sister had been murdered. On the other hand, the “Good” Witch was scheming and evil for no apparent reason... But we didn't see it... We didn't see it because we weren't looking for it.

As long as we believed she was the Good Witch, she could do no wrong in our eyes. Which meant she could get away with anything.

Like an optical illusion for your mind, the movie Wizard of Oz shows us how our perceptions commit us to erroneous conclusions. We see good in what we expect to see good in – and somehow totally ignore the bad. (Or the other way around.)

There are many things in life we are not looking for. We Americans believe that America is good. We have read the Bill of Rights, and it is good. We vote, and we believe that our democracy is good. We have read about freedom, and guess what? We believed free trade was good – until our economy was gutted and all our businesses were monopolized.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines oppression as an; “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.” This is a rather broad definition. But clear. And revealing. Oppression looks like oppression, even if we don't expect to find it there.

So, where do we look? We look where people are forced (either by force or by contrived circumstances) to be the beasts of burden for others. We look where positive change is suppressed. We look where those who resist are punished unfairly. We look where those who might resist are neutralized. We look where those who perpetuate the oppression are rewarded handsomely. And we look where those who reveal the oppression are oppressed themselves.

Here are some examples:

Let's consider a college education. Everyone knows that a college education is the ticket to a better life. Right? But what happens when the price of a college education quadruples? And what happens when the scholarships dry up and the only way to pay for that college education is with student loans and credit cards? And what happens when the economy dries up and college graduates can't get high paying jobs to pay back those loans? All of a sudden, a college education is a ticket to decades of debt. And even if the college graduate does get a job, it will be many years before those debts are paid off. What does that mean? Servitude.

Let's face it. Many recent college graduates have accomplished everything they set out to. And now they are wage slaves. Debtors – who have to do whatever is asked of them to pay off their debts. They are ripe for exploitation. In a way, our best and brightest are often now victims of corporatist oppression. The ticket to a better life has turned out to be a life pigeonholed as a subservient cog in the corporate machine – if you're lucky.

OK. Now let's consider their professors. Decades ago; professors, and especially tenured professors had the freedom to speak their minds. During the McCarthyism era, they lost that right. Radical and left wing professors were quietly purged from universities during that time. And what remained was an oppressed group of intellectuals – who still to this day don't speak out – in the one place where we need open discourse more than any place else.

However, getting fired for being different is a minor trifle for a another group of people – Americans in prison. We, in the land of the free, imprison more people per capita than any other nation on Earth. America's prison population is almost seven times what it was 30 years ago. (In Washington D.C.... three out of every four young black men can expect to see time in prison.) Numerous studies have shown that there is no substantial difference between the crime rates of whites vs. non-whites. And numerous studies have shown that substantially more blacks go to prison than whites for the same crime. (In some states, black men have been incarcerated on drug charges at rates 20 to 50 times greater than white men.)

And what are all these young men of color going to prison for? Most often victimless crimes of the Drug War. Two million people sit in prison in America – most of them for drug offenses. Portugal's decriminalization of drug offenses has shown that none of the awful consequences the drug war advocates predicted about decriminalization would happen. Yet we still keep spending billions of dollars locking up people who actually need treatment – or jobs.

And guess what? Many of these felons will never be able to vote again. America still has Jim Crow laws. The War on Drugs essentially further oppresses the oppressed to keep them oppressed.

But even if we were to ignore the racial inequities (which is impossible), it should now be obvious that this isn't actually a War on Drugs. This is a War on the Left. Right wingers drink alcohol. Left wingers take drugs. Left wingers who get caught with drugs often lose their right to vote. The War on Drugs disenfranchises the Left. This is not a coincidence. President Richard Nixon started the War on Drugs during the period of Viet Nam War resistance. The War on Drugs was intended, at least in part, as oppression of the Left from the very beginning.

Which leads me to my next subject, legal drugs. Big Pharma has been raking in billions of dollars selling antipsychotic, ADHD, and antidepressant drugs to Americans. Some of these drugs have been shown to be no more effective than placebos. Returning veterans with Post Traumatic Stress have claimed that marijuana works better (without the side effects, both physical and psychological, and addictive like symptoms). But of course, marijuana is illegal. On the other hand, these legal drugs have side effects that would be an atrocity in any other circumstances. Numerous suicides, murders, and even mass murders have been implicated from these drugs' prescribed use. But most revealing as a form of oppression; millions of Americans have been turned so numb that they feel like walking zombies. Think about it. The people in America who are the most unhappy have been drugged, by the millions, into a desensitized state. The people most likely to complain have been neutralized. The drug companies who unleashed these drugs on Americans may not have originally intended this to be oppression, but it is now. And as dangerous as these drugs are, with so little regulatory oversight; it doesn't take much of a conspiratorial paranoia to suspect that some people in power want to keep this kind of control – no matter how many lives are ruined.

So, why is it that we don't hear more about things like this? Money. The mass media is addicted to it. Those who have taken it upon themselves to inform America are just making too damn much money keeping us distracted. In 2009, Fox News made revenues of 1.2 billion dollars. For that kind of money, some people would say anything.

Are lies and half-truths forms of oppression? Of course. If someone can convince you to do something that isn't in your best interest, and manipulates you to make painful and costly mistakes; that is definitely oppression. Do it small time and you're called a con artist. Do it big time and you're called a pundit...

A recent study by has revealed that the majority of Americans believed false things about National issues right before the 2010 election. This wasn't an accident. This was a form of oppression.

Since the mass media has failed so badly at informing Americans what is really going on, a huge number of Internet sites (this site included) have filled the void. But that is just a temporary leak (like WikiLeaks), if the corporatocracy has their way. And with the recent Obama FCC rulings, sites such as mine are going to have a harder and harder time getting an audience.

Verizon did not invent the internet. Verizon makes plenty of money without having to privatize the Internet. And Verizon should have no right to profiteer off of the Internet. Net neutality is a matter of First Amendment rights. There should be no “compromise” on the First Amendment. But conveniently, “our” government doesn't recognize bloggers as the press. So, in their eyes, it's OK to cut off our communications links to favor the mass media. Why? So that people like you will have no way of knowing how oppressed we really are.

Most likely, you are a wage slave. Your wages keep dropping in real dollars – and have been for the past 30 years. They blame it on foreign wage competition. But who manipulated our trade policies with promises of free trade? And then who moved their factories to other countries so they wouldn't have to pay as much in wages? And now who keeps you in fear of losing your job? The very same people who have manipulated our government to oppress you.

The recent trillion dollar tax giveaway to the rich pretty much tells you where our government stands. Oppression has many forms... And you'll feel oppressed when you're too busy working (to pay your taxes and monopoly prices for goods) to organize any protest that less and less of your tax monies come back to you in services. Expect austerity measures like America has never seen before in 2011. And expect them only in social services (and corporate oversight). When these guys are done, there will be no safety net for the poor or the middle class. But there will be for the to-big-to-fail. When the super-rich fail again, like the big banks did in 2008, expect even more of your tax dollars to be wasted. This is undeniably what oppression looks like.

Speaking of wasted tax dollars: America recently created the Department of Homeland Security, a domestic CIA of sorts. But it won't be a government agency for long. With all of this contrived controversy about TSA and those full-body scanners, TSA and other sections of Homeland Security are likely soon to be privatized (in a feeding frenzy of corporate greed).

Is that bad?

Well, let's just consider this; the Alabama Department of Homeland Security has classified gay rights groups and environmentalists as potential terrorists. What??? These are people who want to make America more tolerant and sustainable – not blow things up. But “our” own military has conducted training exercises where they imagined the bad guys were “eco-terrorists.” This would be silly if it weren't so oppressive. Not convinced? Let's compare atrocities; BP spilled millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf vs. eco-terrorists once burnt down a ski resort under construction in Vail (and gays haven't done anything as far as I know). There's no comparison of the damage done. The “eco-terrorists” damages were pathetically insignificant compared to the corpo-terrorists. And for some crazy reason Homeland Security goes after the resistance? Face it, this is what “boot in the face” oppression looks like. But the worst of it lets us know where some part of the Department of Homeland Security is actually headed. The Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security has spied on environmental groups and shared that information with the very corporations the environmental groups were united against.

It looks like The Department of Homeland Security doesn't have to be privatized after all.

Our” own government agency has functioned as a corporate spy against our own citizens.

Yes, corporate spying can also be oppressive. Remember when health insurance corporations spied on your life's records to find some excuse to claim you had a pre-existing condition – so that they wouldn't have to pay your medical bills. Wait a minute, paying you medical bills is just what you'd been paying your insurance companies for years to do. Moreover, they never had to give you a refund (for services not rendered). It must sure pay well for an insurance company to just take payments and not have to insure people. Oppressive. Yes. But we fixed that. At least for now.

None of this is stuff that cannot be fixed. It won't be easy. But it just keeps getting worse until we do fix it... until we fix it all – at once. Because this problem is systematic.


Anonymous said...

This article give me an opinion, therefore it is oppressive.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. I like the Good Witch vs. Wicked Witch angle. Just FYI, the phrase "The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines" is a sign of a hack writer.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, that was kind of a jerkoff thing to say. Merriam Webster says good article!

Anonymous said...

If I demonclick your ads and you don't get paid, is that oppression?

Anonymous said...

While I agree with much of your post (particularly the parts about college grads), I have to point out, it's not just oppression of the Left. As a liberal in academia, I can tell you, there are too few professors who have a conservative viewpoint. It's not just about who they vote for, but about the types of authors they suggest students read.

I agree with many of the viewpoints raised in my classes and work with professors. Scratch that, I agree with most of their viewpoints. There's too little disagreement. It's rare that a professor even assigns a reading that I want to tear to pieces. The opposite viewpoint is absent. Professors want to work with like-minded professors. They want to go to symposia with others who are similar to them.

Surrounding yourself with people you agree with isn't a crime. We all do it. But in an arena where discussion is the goal, and learning is a product of grappling ideas, this type of behavior is oppressive.

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