The famous writer and social critic James Baldwin once wrote; “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Now has come a time that we, as the 99% and as citizens of the world, must recognise and face ourselves as what we are; the oppressed. I understand that oppression is a very loaded word, one that tends to conjure up images of forced compliance, slavery, and subjugation. I suggest that our form of oppression today is in many ways all three of these; our forced compliance to adhere to cruel and creeping taxation, the deadening monotony of the modern workplace, the perpetuation of our distancing from the land that gave birth to us; slavery through mechanisms of inflation and taxation which every year are exacerbated by the econocentric state; and subjugation by an all invasive, wholly persuasive propagandist complex also implemented by the econocentric state and it’s corporate buddies.
Our forced compliance is something which we can all act upon, something we must act upon if we are to pass on a better world for our children and future generations in general. Some may not agree that they themselves, as 30+ hour a week workers, are prey to subjugation. I would do well to remind them of what it is they perceive to be societal norms, and query them as to how it is they came to care about such notions to such a great extent they are willing to defend them blindly. As all too often, particularly, in what we like to call the Western world (more roughly the top 30 OECD countries), our ideologies have been so heavily engineered as to render them incomprehensible in many dimensions to our ancestors only two generations past. We have become so convinced as a general populace, (via the persuasive powers of propaganda set in motion by the powers that be; global political leaders and large corporate entities) and have swallowed the pill whole in believing that the current system is fine, so much so that we will sit by and watch as they effectively coordinate the destruction of the planet we all share.
It would do us all a great deal of benefit to remind ourselves of the service provided by the mass media – if indeed it can be called a service. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote of the modern media extensively in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, where they, on page 1., note that through the use of messages and symbols, the mass medias role is ‘…to amuse, entertain, and inform,’ and more importantly, ‘inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of society.’ If this power of the mass media is not used to convey truths, which our current media system clearly doesn’t, be they contentious or not, (whether they are truths that if unvoiced could cause global catastrophic harm i.e. climate change, or a mere watering down of truths to soften a blow to a particular person or company of import, i.e. selective representation of a story in a major newspaper or television program) then this power is at best misleading and at worst oppressive, violent, coercive and ultimately destructive, and we would do best to not only question it, but to mock it openly.
The late great French Sociologist Gustave le Bon in his book The Crowd from 1896, reflected upon the will of people, whom when placed in groups – be they school, work, socio-economic standing or otherwise – tended to be far easier to manipulate. He encourages us to take time to look into the psychology of crowds, as once we have, he assures us;
“…that it can be understood how slight is the action upon them of laws and institutions, how powerless they are to hold any opinions other than those which are not imposed upon them, and that it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them and what seduces them” (p.11).
As individuals that may be inclined to swim against such overwhelming odds and strain against the tide of popular manipulation, I say we remind ourselves of such observations and assertions regularly. I certainly find solace in knowing that it is the general nature of the swarm to follow and do as others do. To understand that to go against the grain is indeed difficult but is often a compelling revolutionary act in itself. I also find great solace in reminding myself of something I believe George Bernard Shaw once said, “All great truths begin as blasphemies,” and if you’re following a great truth, albeit against the overwhelming majority, you too will often be subjected to the bias of the masses, and likely be branded as blasphemous. To this I say keep on keeping on. If you’re offending someone with what you believe to be the truth then you may have actually come across something truly useful. Don’t stop, I beg you. People who are sitting on the ideological fence will see you in your struggle, note your courage and will often join you.
In this way a dutiful reminder of your personal task every now and then is, as far as I’m concerned, a perfect step to overriding the jeers of the general populace, understanding theirs and your own slavery and the forced compliance I mentioned above. Thereby giving you breathing room and a self assurance that no newspaper, television, Hollywood blockbuster or advertising campaign ever will. So then what of the broader notion of oppression itself? The legendary Brazilian educator Paulo Friere says of oppression in his influential work Pedagogy of the Oppressed from 1972:
“To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge from it and turn upon it. This can be done only by means of the praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (p. 33).
In other words, he’s saying take some time to think about what it is you’re going to do to change the world, but then make sure you go out and do it. It’s a two way street. All the thinking in the world isn’t going to change anything unless you or someone else acts upon that thinking directly, and once we have acted we must then return to the drawing board, so to speak, to evaluate a new course of action. This is particularly important in todays globalized world; if said action is fully successful in it’s realisation then the need for reflection is magnified accordingly. In doing so individuals and groups can be sure that such a success can be replicated in their, community. Thereby contributing directly to the revolution, or as I like to think of it, our collective (hopefully peaceful) evolution.
I believe a gentle reminder from the Russian Genius that is Leo Tolstoy from his epic tale War and Peace from 1862 is a fitting end to this short literary blast:
“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but is essential for right thinking; where it is absent, discussion is apt to become worse than useless.”