August 17, 2010

How oppressed were various groups? Judge by their history of revolt

Gay marriage is the main liberatory movement in 2010 -- which goes to show how free everyone is in America, if that's all that's left to fight over. No more slavery, no landowning requirements to vote, no foreign rule, etc.

Freedom-seeking movements will try to get the most liberatory bang for their buck, so they will target sources of oppression that are truly heinous first, then move on to not so oppressive threats, and wind up squabbling over liberation that is so minor that achieving their goal could hardly be taken seriously as a Great Unyoking.

Throughout history, when a horde of invading foreigners took over a community, that community tended to resist, often violently and for long stretches of time. Because the revolt against foreign rule is so widespread across the world, so persistent through time, and so bloody, we infer that the revolutionaries are up against a very oppressive regime.

Gay marriage is at the other end of the spectrum: it appears almost nowhere in the world, even where it does it's only a decade old, and none of the proponents of it are willing to stake their lives for the struggle or even put themselves in front of firehoses. Thus, the denial of marriage rights to homosexuals is scarcely oppressive at all. After all, most gay guys have no plans to ever get married in the first place because, like most straight guys, they'd prefer to cat around until they turn gray. The point about banning gay marriage applies to homophobia in all forms -- fighting it is not widespread, old, or violent, so homophobia cannot have been very oppressive.

In the middle but closer to the anti-imperialist side are anti-slavery movements, including anti-wage slavery movements. They're not quite as widespread, old, and violent, but they're pretty close, especially when they also have an anti-foreign rule angle to them like slave rebellions in the Americas. Slaves and wage slaves are less oppressed than those under the boot of foreign rule because slaveowners at least have some incentive to keep their subjects decently fed, clothed, and housed -- otherwise they won't be able to work and earn the master any money. A foreign ruler is mostly interested in stealing whatever he can, abducting the pretty young women as concubines, and levying crushing taxes on the community that he has no ties to.

In the middle but closer to the gay marriage side is feminism. It's hardly widespread, has only appeared in the past couple centuries, and can get somewhat physically confrontational but rarely at the level of a slave rebellion or an overthrow of a foreign army ruling your land. Why did women the world over and for almost all of time feel that they weren't being oppressed? Well, they surely did see many restrictions on their freedom -- who they could date or marry, whether or not they could own property, etc. -- but they saw that men faced just as severe of restrictions on their freedom, albeit in different domains of life.

When a neighboring tribe or army comes through the village, guess who has no choice but to go face them in defense of their community? When someone needs to labor away at tracking down and hunting game animals to provide the animal fat and protein that we rely on, guess who gets conscripted into the hunting party? When a fight breaks out among the locals, guess who has to step in to break it up before it spills over? Men have brought home the bacon (not merely nuts and berries) and have protected women from violence and other threats to their safety, and they have no real choice to shirk these duties if they want to make it in the world. Women judged the drudgery of the woman's role as no more oppressive than the unavoidable danger of the man's role, so they didn't see any point in fighting for greater personal freedoms.

Only when most threats to a woman's physical safety were eliminated, and after the economy allowed them to bring home the bacon (from the supermarket with wages they earned), did they see an imbalance in how nice overall the guys and the girls had it. And even then most women weren't dyed-in-the-wool bra-burners, so this recent imbalance must not have been very oppressive either, contrary to all of those "prisoner of suburban domesticity" narratives about the 1950s.

The typical civil libertarian sees the world in black and white -- some group is being oppressed or not, and they don't focus much on the magnitude of oppression. Minor infractions must be fought on principle. In the real world, activists should target causes that will deliver the most freedom for the least effort, and go down the list of oppressed groups in order. The fact that so many spend such a large chunk of their outrage budget on trivial matters like gay marriage proves that they do not have liberatory goals, but must be more interested in other things like signaling the purity of their worldview to those whose approval they seek. Like I said, there's not much to fight over these days, but surely something greater than gay marriage -- ending the form of state-sanctioned discrimination known as affirmative action, for example.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:17 PM

    The general trend is correct, but I think the homo thing probably more explained by the fact that gay men and women just didn't have too much asabiyya (of course, the question is then why they had so little, which may or may not get us back to your conclusion).

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  2. Steve Johnson3:50 AM

    "Freedom-seeking movements will try to get the most liberatory bang for their buck, so they will target sources of oppression that are truly heinous first..."

    Your premise is completely off.

    People don't fight because they're "oppressed" (whatever the hell that means). They fight for power, i.e., when they think they can win.

    Blacks rioted in the late 60s, not in 1850.

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  3. Underachiever4:24 AM

    I agree with you, except where anonymous disagrees with you.

    "fighting it is not widespread, old, or violent, so homophobia cannot have been very oppressive"

    Obviously it was oppressive to gays (the men especially), but they couldn't get together politically to form coalitions until recently because societies were not tolerant enough of them to do so.

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  4. "the question is then why they had so little"

    Right, since they had so little, therefore they were not that oppressed. They felt no common threat that would cause them to band together for defense and perhaps eventual conquest, in the way that a strong urban elite threatened the nomads out on the periphery of an empire.

    "They fight for power, i.e., when they think they can win."

    There's no disagreement in that. Fighting to liberate yourself from what you see as an oppressor is just one instance of fighting for power. You're just making an observation about the timing of the revolt, not what the motivation was.

    Obviously blacks in the late '60s weren't trying to take over the country, or else they would've kept going on for a lot longer. They were only fighting to alleviate what oppression they faced -- not being able to sit at the front of the bus, using Whites Only water fountains, etc.

    They've continued as a special interest group looking for goodies from the public and private sectors, but they haven't been in revolt.

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  5. Obviously blacks in the late '60s weren't trying to take over the country, or else they would've kept going on for a lot longer. They were only fighting to alleviate what oppression they faced -- not being able to sit at the front of the bus, using Whites Only water fountains, etc.

    The urban rioters of the 1960's weren't fighting to end discrimination, with few exceptions they were rioting for sheer thrills and to loot property.

    Peter

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  6. Anonymous12:41 AM

    I wonder how much of this is driven by gays and how much is just SWPL status seeking AW wanting to fight "the man" or rather, just rebel against daddy (i.e conservatives).

    - Breeze

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  7. Anonymous3:10 PM

    I think I'm safe in assuming you don't belong to any minority group and therefore do not know what it's like to live in a society that treats you as an outcast.

    Also your and (Steve Johnson's) knowledge of history is rather lacking. Blacks did not wake up in the 1960's and decide they were going to riot for 'power'. Slave uprisings in what is now the USA occurred as early as the 1660's. It was a long struggle from oppression to freedom, and just because they were no longer property, does not mean they should not also strive for the same equality and dignity every other American is entitled to.

    Gay people throughout history have been executed and tortured for who they are as well, and until rather recently were labeled mentally ill in this country. Only in the last few decades have GLBT folks been able to live their lives open and honestly, but not equally.

    Having laws that discriminate against one group (such as prohibiting gay marriage)labels that group as unworthy, or inferior which opens them up to societal prejudice, victimization and in extreme cases can lead to persecution and genocide as was carried out against the Jews, Gays, Gypsies, Handicapped etc. by the Nazi's in the 20th century.

    Of course being tortured and executed is much worse than being denied a few rights, but one group having entitlements over another is still oppression and in the land of the free it must be overcome.

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  8. Bla bla bla, save it for your SAT Writing essay.

    You would be safe in assuming that I don't belong to a Non-Asian Minority, but very unsafe in assuming that this mattered or that I cared.

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  9. So where did Agnostic say blacks weren't that oppressed, because they didn't start revolting until the 1960s?

    "strive for the same equality and dignity every other American is entitled to."

    Black people already have the legal equality that Americans are "entitled" to, and they'll have the dignity as soon as they pull up their fucking pants.

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