Exploitation and Oppression

The processes of development have adopted values driven by economic growth, values that often view all things as means to a narrow-minded end, values that reduce an individual’s identity to a producer, consumer, and coveter of goods, values that reduce human virtue to economic goods. The underlying assumptions and values of the materialistic enterprise have ended up characterizing development efforts and relationships as exploitative and oppressive.

One of the most obvious examples is humanity’s relationship with nature. It seems as though there is a competition between nations to destroy ecosystems with greater and greater swiftness in their attempt to sap as much output in the shortest amount of time, completely disregarding any requirements beyond the present. Little wonder that the state of health is in a crisis, as air and water are poisoned to produce the same shoes that one wears to the emergency room. If endless material acquisition is the goal, then why shouldn’t the planet’s resources be drained?

The relationship of the individual and the institutions of society is another example. Individuals, groups, and societies are fed manipulations of their identity so that corporations can profit. They are denied self-knowledge, and thus are grievously oppressed – in fact, the system depends on demoralized and self-serving individuals who have no sense of collective responsibility. They view their own human capacities for good, for honesty, for cooperation, all in terms of economic profit or loss – thus, their own spiritual potentialities become relative and subservient to economic growth.

Even relations among individuals become exploitative and oppressive. There is a constant power struggle between classes, races, ranks, and statuses; “how much can I gain from another” becomes the dominating question in the workplace, education, the social scene, and even romantic relationships. Others are seen as means to one’s end. And then people are perplexed as to why friendship and marriage have become so superficial and so difficult.

Exploitation and oppression are inherent features of the materialistic view of human reality. How does a spiritual understanding of human nature change the dynamics and characteristics of development and relationships?