Empowerment, Oppression, and Social Order

Extreme socio-economic inequalities of access and opportunity result in privileged vs. oppressed classes. The oppressed, over time, adapt to the structure of domination under which generations languish and become resigned to it. The status quo of the social order is maintained by coercive deterrents and castigating norms. Fear of freedom inhibits the underprivileged from waging a struggle for reform. The task of forging alternatives to the social order requires the rejection of a submissive social role and the adoption of prescriptive autonomy and larger community responsibility. The oppressed, having internalized the image given them by their oppressor accept a self-conception of individualism and dependence prescribed by the social order.

Prescription is the process by which one ideology’s value-allocations are injected into other individuals and communities, transforming the consciousness of persons prescribed to in conformity with the ideals of the oppressor. The behavior of the oppressed follows the guidelines set by the social order. The mindset which afflicts the oppressed will persist until they achieve a self-conception that holds them capable of running the risks of equality. Increasing capacity leads to this state of empowerment.

The oppressed suffer from a duality which has established itself in their self-conception. Without equal opportunities and access they cannot exist authentically. Yet, although they desire authentic existence, they fear its responsibilities. They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose social norms they have internalized.

Suppose some among the disadvantaged sought to alter the course of history, to change the social order, and to eliminate the sources of unequal access to social and economic capital. Their struggle for reform threatens not only the social order, but also their own oppressed neighbors who are fearful of still greater extremes of inequality, and indeed punitive measures that loom unspoken above their fragile lives. When they discover within themselves the yearning to be equal and united, they perceive that this yearning can be transformed into reality only when the same indignation is aroused in a critical mass of believers, volunteers, and supporters. While dominated by the fear of freedom they think themselves incapable of teaching or appealing to others, or to listen to the discourse of worthy causes, or even to the pangs originating from within their own consciences. The social order subdues the will to fight with the incessant whisper: “don’t stand out, don’t resist the flow, don’t oppose the flow of the norm.” As a result, the oppressed prefer gregariousness to authentic unity; they prefer the security of conformity to the creative enterprise produced by equality; they prefer boring subsistence over the dangers of ruffled feathers during the activism of social change.

The oppressors are also incentivized to maintain the social order as it exists, for it represents the source and foundation of their inordinate privilege. Although they may donate charitable contributions to the oppressed class they can never instigate revolution, not because they are unwilling, but because their soul’s lack the spirit of selflessness that suffering engenders. They give a pittance of charity to redeem their guilty conscience of the disproportionate gain they enjoy unearned, and squander indulgently. In order to maintain the flow of their conscience-clearing donations to charity, the oppressors require the perpetuation of the system of injustice, upon which their disproportionate privilege depends. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of their false generosity, which is nourished by popular squalor, poverty, and global despair.

Enduring change to the social order, ironically, consists in fighting to eliminate the causes which make charity possible. It is the good conscience of the oppressive social order that stifles the will to change, and drinks thirstily the nectar of complacency that only the fount of pride could furnish. Charity is the origin of that clean conscience.

Charity induces the disadvantaged and subdued masses to extend their trembling hands in supplication before the power and wealth of the socially successful. It is not in supplication but in co-equal creator-ship that these hands become worthy hands, belonging to valuable peoples, and creators of peace and prosperity for all. True generosity lies in striving so that men’s hands need not be extended any longer in supplication, but become increasingly the hands of creators which when raised up, embody the confidence of empowered hands. With a definite sense of power and increasing skill these hands transform our world and revolutionize the human condition.