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Casey Kitchel

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When fighting for rights, which is tougher: a battle against an oppressive government, or a battle against an oppressive society?

Manal al-Sharif opens her TED talk by asking the audience a question.

“You know that people all over the world fight for their freedom, fight for their rights. Some battle oppressive governments. Others battle oppressive societies.” And then she asks, “which battle do you think is harder?”

Fellow TEDers, which do you think is a tougher battle? And why?

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    Jun 24 2013: The recent history shows that overturning oppressive governments, in many cases, made the oppression worse. This is because slavery and oppression is a state mind, not an external condition. I'd say the Star Wars series offers a good insight on this.
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        Jun 24 2013: Hi Lamar, Your statements here are both eloquent and on point! Thumbs Up! I agree!
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        Jun 25 2013: LaMar, violence is an action. Putting shackles on one's legs is an action. "Oppressed", "enslaved", "insulted" is how we feel about actions of others towards us.

        You can say the exact same thing to two people. One person will be "insulted", the other one will consider it funny. Insult is not what you say. Insult is how the other person feels about your words.

        You live in a cabin, grow your own food, and consider yourself free. You do it voluntarily. If you force another person to live in the same conditions as you do, the person will be "oppressed". Two people living in the same physical conditions: one is "free", the other one is "oppressed" - how come?

        Re: "Do you have an example where fighting against an oppressive government has made the situation worse?" Egypt. Under Mubarak, Coptic Christians did not have to flee the country to escape violence.

        You did not give a thought to the Star Wars analogy. Anakin Skywalker was taken out of slavery, but has never taken out the feeling of being oppressed out of himself.

        We feel oppressed when we are forced to conform to external conditions and opinions. When we voluntarily accept the same conditions and opinions, we feel free. This is why some people see taxation as oppression, while others believe, it is based on "voluntary compliance".

        You can't force other people to "comply voluntarily" (be free) without oppressing them.
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        Jun 25 2013: Re Hitler example. Nobody can say how I feel and what I like except myself. This kind of lie is easy to detect. Convincing others that they will like being oppressed by us is immoral.

        Fundamentally, people feel unhappy when "what is" does not match their idea of "what ought": we get upset when other people don't behave the way we expect or think they "should behave", when our salary is not what we think it should be, etc.

        When "what is" and "what ought" are in accord, people feel happy. One way to feel free and happy is to forget "what ought" and focus on "what is" - accept reality.

        As we do this, it has an interesting effect. We accept other people as they are. We stop trying to change them and force our rules on them. As we fight the feeling of being oppressed within ourselves, we reduce the chance that we will become oppressors.

        Feeling oppressed and being an oppressor are two sides of the same coin.

        This does not mean, however, that we should accept anything. You have a point too. We cannot just stand by watching an act of violence. It makes us an accomplice. As usually, there is no rule of thumb. The best adviser is our own consciousness.
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        Jun 25 2013: Great article, LaMar. Thanks a lot.

        The main point of the article seems to be: "They [people who hurt others] change their way of thinking so they do not have to think about how they are hurting others.
        ...See if you can identify the ones you use most often.
        1. Justifying
        In avoiding responsibility for their behavior a person finds a reason for what they have done.
        “He yelled at me so I had to hit him.”
        “They all did it so why can’t I?”
        -- From the article

        "I have been responding to the little snide side remarks made by those same 3 people. Did you expect I would let them take shots without returning fire lol!"
        -- From elsewhere

        The road up and the road down is one and the same road. We are talking about the same thing. I am talking about the other side of the same coin: "We can change our way of thinking so we do not have to think about how OTHER people are hurting US." This way we do not make excuses, do not place blame, do not feel angry, do not lie to confuse others and our vision is clear to see how we hurt others instead of seeing how they are hurting us. We accept responsibility for our actions.

        Re: "The definition of slavery and oppression is a lack of freedom."

        Freedom in general has no meaning. You have to specify, freedom from what. Being free from threat (security) sometimes mean giving up freedom from being watched (privacy). http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/cranston11.htm. When we live alone in the wilderness, we are free from the rules of society, but not free from natural dangers. We can be free from predators and hunger, but have to submit ourselves to the rules of society.
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          Jun 25 2013: You make some important points here, Arkady. I think people can learn to be more aware of how they hurt others instead of seeing only how others hurt them. This is a subject we deal with in programs about bullying. The bully often minimizes his responsibility in his own mind.

          On the victim end, though, there are degrees of hurt that cannot be erased through a change of attitude. The pain may be mitigated somewhat.
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        Jun 25 2013: LaMar, re: "Some actions are justified when equal in force. If you punch me and I punch you back I am justified in that action."

        Neurologist Daniel Wolpert says, he has experimental data showing that people tend to perceive force used against them by others to be greater than the equal force that they use against others themselves. (http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_wolpert_the_real_reason_for_brains.html) This is how violence escalates. When a circle of violence or mutual insults is started, it does not matter who started it. It just needs to stop. "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." -- Mahatma Gandhi, (attributed)

        The concentration camp example seems to confirm my point of how people become oppressors after being oppressed. It's the flawed thinking mentioned in the article you quote that one can gain freedom by oppressing others.

        Fritzie makes a good point. Children often turn to bullying others to prove their "self-worth". And they have this need because they have been abused themselves. I've heard, adult abusers often have been abused as children. I don't have data to support this statement, but I would be interested to know if anyone has references.

        On the victim end - yes, sometimes, people never get over the pain of past abuses. People differ greatly in their ability to control their emotions. I call it "spiritual strength".

        Here is an interesting and controversial talk on the subject:
        http://www.ted.com/talks/scilla_elworthy_fighting_with_non_violence.html
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        Jun 26 2013: Fritzie, sorry for misquoting you. I went on to make my own point instead of reading carefully what you said. Thank you for the references.

        Regarding the first article, from some personal observations and experiences, inflated self-esteem appears to be the other side of an inferiority complex.

        A person who does not feel good about him or herself often feels vulnerable and sensitive about what other people's opinions, words, or, even, facial expressions or tone. This results in a "how dare you..." reaction which appears as a sign of high self-esteem, but may, in fact, result from internal feeling of insecurity and vulnerability. Such people may feel that they deserve a better treatment, higher salary, etc. which, again, can look like a sign of a high self-esteem. And this damaged image of "self" can result from suffering abuse, poverty, or unfair treatment in the past. I just speak from personal experience and experience with some people close to me.

        I think, this pattern also works on higher levels - ethnicity, religion, race, nation. How we think of ourselves seems to be extremely important for how we treat ourselves and others. Identity crisis is another example of a similar kind of issue.
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          Jun 26 2013: That's okay, Arkady. I know thoughts cascade from one to another.

          I too have see cases in which bullying definitely did not arise from high self esteem. And I agree that how we think of ourselves affects how we treat ourselves and others.
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        Jun 27 2013: Re: "Abuse can be another form of oppression and slavery and here I would make the point that if an abused person accepted your advice they would just accept that abuse and be happy."

        We are abused to the degree we tolerate.

        When I was in the Soviet Army, there was a new draft every 6 months. Where I served, there were soldiers from 3 different drafts. Unofficially, the youngest draft was forced to do all chores - wash floors and toilets, and do laundry for the senior drafts. If they refused, they would be beaten by the second draft. The oldest draft did nothing at all. They were driving the second draft to abuse the youngest draft to do the labor. If a soldier from a second draft refused to oppress a younger soldier and would do his own work, the oldest draft would pressure his peers to lower that soldier to the status of the younger draft - abuse or be abused. They would also pit the youngest draft against the soldier - just to test how much abuse he would tolerate. People who reported abuse to the officers, would be ostracized. They were despised and abused by everyone to the point they had to be transferred to work in the pigsty. There is no escape. There are two ways to survive: accept abuse as a young soldier and abuse others after 6 months; or fight back from the very start. The second way could be tough and risky. In some places, one could be beaten to suffer serious injuries. As a young soldier, you don't know what to expect. If you fight back as a young soldier, after initial "tests", you might be accepted as equal by senior soldiers. And, most likely, will be expected to abuse the young anyway - that was not the end of the fight. Pretty much, the culture of alpha-males in a baboon tribe. If you wanted to fight against the whole system, you had to fight alone against everyone, including your own peers.

        Much of the same is going on in society at large.
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        Jun 27 2013: Re: "Trying to analyze other people to find a weakness would also be considered a sign of low self esteem would it not?"

        This is an insightful comment. There is truth in it somewhere deep inside. It would be a sign of weakness in a certain sense, yes.
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        Jun 27 2013: Lamar, I'm OK. When I went through these experiences, my character was, pretty much, shaped. Yes, what does not kill us makes us stronger. But I would admit that there are better ways to become stronger. You know how sympathy and "words of wisdom" don't work in these situations. My experience is not that bad. "Abuse or be abused" is not the worst. Many people go through "kill or be killed" situations. Or even worse, they grow up in these environments. Then this philosophy of "fight or flight" is really hard to take out.

        You are right about projecting. We should not project our experiences onto others and generalize. Taking a person out of slavery is easier than taking slavery out of a person.

        When people recognize their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities in other people, some people use these weaknesses to provoke other people - deliberately push the hot buttons, mostly to pit people against each other. This is what media does daily, this is what the senior draft did to pit the second draft against the rookies. Knowing our own weaknesses helps us prevent others from pushing these buttons (like in your example with the laundromat - ignore those fingers and disrespect) and also avoid pushing these buttons in others, be more sensitive to each other's issues.
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        Jun 27 2013: There is no answer to these questions. I just point out that oppression creates oppression. Anakin turned into Darth Vader through anger and feeling of injustice towards himself. This feeling of being oppressed made him vulnerable to corruption by power. As he gained power, he felt that "his time has come" and he was justified in his actions.

        Soldiers tolerate abuse from senior peers because they make a trade-off between suffering a moderate abuse in order to gain power in the future and suffering a much larger abuse with no prospects. Yes, abuse is real. But there are two types of struggles - external struggle to stand up to the oppressor and the internal struggle with our own consciousness and resistance to corruption which comes with opportunity to oppress others - take bribes or force others to do serve us. Guess, which struggle is tougher. Given that winning the internal struggle, sometimes, means to suffer greater abuse and peer pressure while giving up privileges

        It's explained fairly well in the New Testament. Raising dead and calming storms are symbols. When people talk about these things literally, they make no sense. It's about spiritual death and spiritual storms. The answers are also there - forgiveness, loving the enemies, turning the other cheek. Most people can't do that. Advising this is hypocrisy.
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        Jun 27 2013: You and Lamar are quite right. We cannot say to an abused person to just change his mind. We cannot say to a person who is hurt "just forgive", "don't dwell on these things too much". One cannot say to the new recruit "just accept abuse and forgive your abusers". When we tell these things to others, it's hypocrisy. What I write here is hypocrisy. This is why therapies and preaching do not work. The abused person must internalize these things for himself. "You must forgive" is hypocrisy and does not work. "I must forgive" does work - only works from inside. Like the storm calming.

        Refusing to return violence and become an oppressor is tough. Sometimes, it means to subject ourselves to a greater violence, suffering, or death. But it does work when the advise comes from a person who "picks up the cross". Examples: Gandhi, MLK. Without the cross it's empty words and hypocrisy. Again, it's all in the New Testament.
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        Jun 27 2013: I agree. I think, we see each other's points. When I say that we cannot tell each other what to forgive and what to "dwell on", I mean not only that it usually feels insensitive and hypocritical, but it's useless either. People cannot be expected to follow this advice and forgive because most of us do not control our emotions. "Control our own emotions" (anger, lust, etc.) is another piece of hypocritical and useless advice :-). Religions preach it for thousands of years now with very little result. These teachings have a tendency to turn over onto their heads and become tools to control and oppress others.
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        Jun 28 2013: OK. We are slowly converging. I agree that "I must forgive" is setting an expectation for ourselves and failing to meet expectations (our own or external), usually, carries a sense of guilt and shame. Perhaps, you are right. We should not require such things from ourselves. "You may forgive" or "I can forgive", "God willing" - for religious people, as an option and possibility, do sound better. You are right. Suggestions work a lot better than telling people what they must do.
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        Jun 28 2013: How about "you need to forgive" [in order to heal]?
        "Must" refers to obligation.
        "May" refers to permission or possibility.
        "Can" refers to ability.
        "Need" refers to necessity.

        Or is it not necessary to forgive to stop mutual violence and oppression?
        Still, "you need to" (telling people what they need) does not sound appropriate.

        I think, our conversation indicates how confused we are with what we "need", "must", "can", or "may" - especially in emotional and spiritual area. We don't seem to have much control or understanding. I feel that there is no correct answer here. Some internal dialog or self reflection "may" help or "needs to happen" (here we go again).
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        Jun 28 2013: abc XYZ, language is often an obstacle for communication. If I speak of myself, I sound self-centered. If I speak of "us", I'm making unjustified projections and generalizations. Spiritualism was in the picture all along. By spiritualism, I don't mean anything supernatural. It simply refers to emotional area of our life, in my mind. But these explanations only add to confusion. I hope, we will not start discussion what spiritualism means.

        If you think, you are enlightened and not confused - good for you. I'm still not aware of my own enlightenment. :-)

        I think, Lamar nailed the question, as usual. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." - that's it. I don't think, there is anything to add, take away, or explain here. It seems to me, we are debating what all three of us understand. (Is it fair to use "us" here?)

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