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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  • Jul 6 2013: In my humble opinion, they are essentially one in the same. I believe the real fight against oppression starts with our 'oppressive' human nature that forms CULTURES of oppression.

    The logic; oppressive relationships form oppressive cultures, which develop into oppressive societies which establish oppressive institutions such as 'governments.'

    My logic is from a post-modernist point of view, (give me a case for another one, and I'll consider it.) Governments are 'constructs' of people. We had to collectively agree on what a government's form and function was before we established one, with power to oppress its constituency. Who decided we needed one? Look at the definition of 'govern' and you'll see, its arguably a synonym for 'oppress.'

    Likewise, the constituents, had to agree collectively on what 'society' was before it became so powerful. The definition of society is "a group of humans broadly distinguished from other groups by mutual interests, participation in characteristic relationships, shared institutions, and a common culture."

    Our culture too, was formed by people with mutual interests, participating in characteristic relationships right? One mutual interest was survival, relationships are essential for survival. (Contrary to the myth of 'Independence' propagated by white Western culture) Relationships are oppressive when one individual or group has power over the other by physical force and or by controlling resources needed for survival.

    Look around, relationships commonly involve an imbalance of power. Historically, it was physical dominance of man over woman, so he got to set up the first institutions. Maybe its oil or education now, but its still power, don't be fooled by the 'curtain' of democracy used to hide the great and powerful Oz calling the shots.

    So... until we create truly egalitarian relationships, we will always develop oppressive societies and governments. The oppression to fight is in our nature,the man in the mirror

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