TED Conversations

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 29 2013: I think the difference between fighting an oppressive government and an oppressive society is mainly down to how long it takes to achieve victory over them. Oppressive governments can be defeated within a person's lifetime, or the frame of a few lifetimes. Oppressive societies take generations to overcome, and can defy even the most highly organized forms of opposition because of that.

    Also, the period during which old behaviors still have power is greater under an oppressive society than an oppressive government. New ways of thinking have to be taught, they don't just arrive out of thin air. Unfortunately, we tend to fall back easily onto the readily perceived points of bias, which form the basis of oppressive society. The kind of universal education required to prevent that doesn't just arrive upon the defeat of an oppressive society. Until it can be developed many amongst the new generations are likely, ironically, to embrace the old instead of the new.

    Oddly, oppressive societies probably suffer the fatal aspects of their fall, relative to their lifetimes in comparison to those of oppressive governments, about as quickly as oppressive governments do. It's just that oppressive governments fall with the work of a shorter history of defiance, fewer generations of nameless people are ground under opposing them. To fight an oppressive society it takes many more people who stand up and are willing to watch their work seemingly go nowhere.

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