The Five Faces Of Oppression, A Response
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The Five Faces Of Oppression, A Response

Additional perspective on an essay by Iris Young, an American political theorist, philosopher, and politician; her insights on the complexities of oppressive systems are valuable even today.

Animal liberation is human liberation

The essay was prefaced by a powerful quote.

Philosopher and politician Simone Weil's characterized oppression as "a terrible caricature of obedience." This is so significant because in conversations of oppression, and as Young goes on to elaborate in her essay, oppression is not always intentional outward violence imposed by a dominant group. Sometimes, oppression is manifested in the complacency of those in the society doing the oppressing. People are encouraged via cultural socialization to take "paths of least resistance." This means never questioning authority, never causing a scene, and never challenging the way things are. The truth is that true peace is achieved not by taking these paths of least resistance, but by actively calling out injustice and standing up for what is right.

Positive change never occurs by adhering to the status quo.

Young criticizes capitalism by explaining how it demonstrates one of the "faces" or types of oppression in being inherently exploitative. From an objective point of view, it seems fair to encourage a system which allows "free trade" of all goods. However, history has highlighted that whenever this system is in place, extreme class stratification occurs, resulting in intense exploitation (oppression) of the lower classes by the upper classes. Again, this is not usually intentional. To reference the intro quote again, those capitalists on the "inside" of the glass usually have no idea or are willfully ignorant to the amount of suffering their pursuits of wealth are causing. This does not mean that exploiters should be excused. They should still be held accountable for their actions, so that we as a society can begin to address the deep rooted systems of oppression that undermine us.

One quote used by Young which also stood out to me was "A theory of communicative action conceives individual identity not as an origin but as a product of linguistic and practical interaction" This quote about powerlessness is especially potent because it is true that a person's self-image can dictate their impression of how powerful they themselves are. One of the most powerful faces of oppression is powerlessness. This is because sometimes those in power can indoctrinate the powerless into believing they are powerless by nature, and thus securing the power hegemony for a great amount of time.

Sometimes, the silenced and marginalized groups are aware that they are being systematically oppressed. Other times, the oppressed are "content" with their social position because they have fallen for the rhetoric of the dominant group which suggests that they belong in a place of oppression. Powerlessness and cultural imperialism are closely connected, because both involve establishing the ruling class culture as the status quo, and all others are ostracized, marginalized, or otherwise oppressed.

One of the biggest forms of oppression occurring in the world today is the oppression of nonhuman animals. Capitalism utilizes systematic speciesism in order to commodify nonhuman animals (people) into merely units of production. Oppression in this form is stripping them of their rights, and forcing them to be seen as "things" to be exploited. Nonhuman animals are not only "someone," "they." and "who", but people who deserve the recognition of their oppression and the respect of their autonomy. Humans cannot effectively fight intraspecies oppression if they refuse to acknowledge and fight the violent speciesist oppression they themselves take part in.

Read the essay:

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