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How is oppression determined or measured?

0 votes

Among some anarchists and leftists, I read them makes claims about who has it the worst, and whoever that has the worst is right and/or cannot be questioned. Typically, there is sort of a one upmanship of folk trying to claim this person or group has it worse because this or that. It's seems to be associated with identity politics and the slang term for it is the "oppression olympics." So, the question basically is how is the levels of oppression determined or measured and according to who?

asked Jul 10 by human (3,740 points)
personally, i don't spend much energy thinking about this sort of thing....which i alluded to in my comments to zz when talking about blm, etc. so i don't "measure" oppression, nor do i see it as very useful for me to do so. even though i can obviously see trends, read and watch accounts of events from the past, look up statistics, and make my own judgments in generalized terms, i want to confront the ideology of power and dominance wherever i find it, and to question how it manifests for all people through the money system, legal system, educational system....

2 Answers

+2 votes

aside from this being a heavy-handed socratic moment, i will play devil's advocate for a minute.

oppression can be measured by a) historic significance (for example, slavery of black people in the u.s. is an historically--and culturally, and economically--significant phase of life in the u.s.), b) preponderance of experience (for example, black people in the u.s. have to be particularly careful around police--especially non-black police), c) economic relevance (for example, redlining of neighborhoods by banks, redevelopment of poor districts, frequently of color, by cities, etc). another controversial criteria would be people's capacity to go somewhere else... does a somewhere else exist for a specific group where they are not looked down on, threatened, etc? how far away is it (both geographically and culturally)? prison rates are another common quantifier, as are death rates (how many people die as babies, teenagers, vs how many reach old age), and health markers of various other kinds: alcoholism, diabetes, etc.
other ways of measuring follow things like active political/cultural presence (young people of all ethnicities acting like the black people they see on rap videos, for example), or visibility in political matters (the grey panthers used to be a thing. so did the brown berets. there have been multiple identity based rebels over the years just of my life. there is an argument that those models--including the women's movement--were all based on black liberation struggles in the 60s, but it is not merely the strength and tenacity of black people that meant that their movement was addressed. wilderson, i believe, would be in line with the idea that it is the black/white paradigm of this culture that allows black people more visibility in both resistance and in subjugation.
so is it more oppressive to be told that your people are evil (black people), or that you can't exist because your people were all killed )like native americans), for example.

it is possible to take this oppression olympics thing as a provocation to do some important theoretical work that pulls apart POC as an umbrella term, as well as looking at other ways that people are systematically (and systemically) devalued, to look at how the differences are real and how negating those differences deepens the power of the state. maybe you could do some of that, human?

answered Jul 11 by dot (50,650 points)

"aside from this being a heavy-handed socratic moment, i will play devil's advocate for a minute."

I actually laughed out loud, thanks dot.

Thanks, I will think over what you wrote. I'm not sure I understand the mention of alcoholism.

yosemite: ;)

human: alcoholism is considered by some to be a disease, or a response to disease (self-medicating)... if it doesn't make sense to you, just ignore it. it's a side point.

Oh okay, you meant the AA/12-step view. Got it. I self-medicate. :/

Human - I wouldn't take calling alcoholism a "health marker" to even be equivalent to being a disease. Granted, dot later referred to it in relation to either being a disease or a response to a disease, but I mean, that is definitely not just an AA trip. A health marker is really (so far as I understand public health-speak) an indication of a noteworthy factor in an individual's health, some of these are physical, some are mental or emotional.

I mean, what about the dis-ease of navigating civilization, and capitalism? Wanting to be blotto seems like a rational, if not healthy, response to all that garbage. I am certainly not pure or beyond that decision (I've been drinking a cider while writing this, because I got home from work, and because I hate capitalism, and because of civilization...)

At the same time, there are folks who are predisposed to alcoholism, just like diabetes or melanoma. Most often it goes back to civilization environmental factors such as cultural history of dispossession, violence, marginalization, and genocide (aka: civilization).

What complicates this is that there is choice involved. But then again, a lot of other diseases involve choice. I want to have more to say about this, but I don't, actually. Something about agency, or maybe our own unique one...

*personally I am up in the air about if melanoma, lung cancer, stroke, diabetes, or organ (either kidney or liver) failure, or maybe the pesky aneurysm that got my dad and grandpa, will get me first. Some of these are because of my choices and lifestyle and some of these are things where I can make the best choices, and I still might be dead. #yolo

much more articulate and more what i meant than my response. i was flummoxed by someone not understanding my point. thnx ingrt.
Thanks for your response, ingrate. I would say stuff like alcoholism and addiction is a response to today's society and the societies before. If you listen or talk to people that struggle with it. They usually do it in response to society and other reasons.
0 votes
The problem I am having with this question is that it's actually not Socratic enough, by which I mean that it's not really an elenchus and it doesn't try to lead us into aporia. I suppose that's what dot means about it being heavy-handed.

It's actually a pretty clear series of claims disguised as a question.

It argues that there's no legitimate way to measure oppression - and therefore it can't be the case that the most oppressed people have an unquestionable ability to say how oppression should be addressed.

This is exactly the kind of thing Socrates would make fun of someone for doing! It dogmatically presupposes that we know what oppression is, and furthermore that all kinds of multifarious things are describable as oppression. Immediately there's a problem. How do we measure the "amount" of oppression if it seems to differ from itself in kind?

This is where Socrates would draw the young man out and force him into a reductio ad absurdum, and then, "together," they would try to clarify the original definition so as to avoid the unhelpful and unreasonable conclusion.

In that respect, dot's "answer" has way more Socratic irony than the question does.
answered Jul 19 by asker (9,260 points)
Anyway, none of this seems to get at the heart of the problem.

We can say that oppression is un-measurable, or we can just as easily say that it's measurable if we just posit that there are multiple scales. Neither of these claims has any bearing on whether the person who is most oppressed is naturally better positioned to say how that oppression should be addressed!

It could be that the most oppressed person is verifiably Kaspar Hauser, since he experienced all of his disciplining as a fully fledged conscious being, but that at the same time his upbringing was so traumatic that it totally impaired his ability to judge his situation and escape from it.

It could also be that our ability to measure oppression is so faulty that we can't say anything useful at all about the difference between a bronze age chattel slave and an emperor. But this has no bearing on the claim that whoever has it the worst is naturally right about the nature of their oppression. It simply means we can't identify that person.

Basically I just don't think there's any essential connection between the two issues.
My counter-claim is that the ability to assess your situation and determine your chances for liberation is not immediately immanent to that situation. It does not seem to me directly connected either to the severity or the kind of oppression.

In my mind, then, there is a real question here about how to epistemologically ground your ability to critique your own situation, but it can't be answered in these terms.
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