- Empowerment Discourse Justice Knowledge


Disproportionate access to education and employment opportunities for a privileged minority deprives society of the labor and intellectual potential of the masses. From among the privileged, certain members may seek to join the struggle for social transformation towards a more just world order. Historically, what has been the role of defectors from privileged classes who seek to join the masses in a people’s revolution?

A nobleman and knight, Sir Florian Geyer (pictured), fought for peasant liberation in the German Peasants War of 1524. Won over to their cause by a sense of justice, Geyer’s “Black Band” was uniquely capable of combating heavy cavalry from the aristocratic opposition, executing lords and priests, and liberating thousands of peasants. Mistrusting an aristocrat, the peasant army made him a chief adviser instead of a general. Ironically, Geyer was assassinated by peasants loyal to the aristocracy in summer, 1525.

Existentially, these people pose unique risks and special opportunities as they move from one pole of the privileged-oppressed dichotomy to the other, without necessarily transcending it. As exploiters of the masses, heirs of oppressive fortunes, or passive spectators of inequality, when such individuals take up the cause of social transformation, they bring with them their capacities as well as their biases.

Pitfalls of privilege include a lack of confidence in the peoples’ ability to think, to want, and to know. Accordingly, these adherents to the cause of social transformation constantly run the risk of offering material generosity to their compatriots which is as disempowering and destructive to the self-esteem of the movement as the system of charity institutionalized by the status quo. The charity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be perpetuated in order to concentrate wealth amidst the privileged class, necessitating in turn these acts of oppressive charity. The power dynamic is concealed behind the washing of the oppressor-conscience and the legitimization of the economic order, by such charity.

Converts to the people’s cause, even those that truly desire to transform the unjust order, because of their upbringing believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. Their self-assurance stamps out the budding aspirations of the newly empowered. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the surest prerequisite to universal participation and social reform. A champion of social justice can be identified more by his genuine trust in the people, which draws him into identity with their plight, than by a thousand actions on their behalf devoid of that trust.

Those who commit themselves to the cause of social justice must re-examine themselves constantly for that ego that creeps incessantly and imperceptibly. Bringing themselves to account each day in regards to their inner thoughts towards their fellow collaborators will guard against it. This conversion is unspeakably difficult, and does not admit of ambiguous behavior. To affirm this commitment but to consider oneself the proprietor of the knowledge of the dynamics of change—which must then be explained to (or imposed upon) the people—is to retain the posture of the paternalistic status quo.

The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of justice yet is unable to enter into socio-economic equality with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as ignorant, is self-deceived and eventually may be a traitor. The convert who approaches the cause of social transformation but feels cautious with each step they take, often expressing doubts about success, and whose suggestions are accompanied by attempts to impose his or her “status” remains nostalgic towards their powerful origins.

Being drawn into the life of the masses requires a profound reorientation, burning the selfishness born of materialism. Those who undergo this personal transformation must take on a new state of mind; they can no longer remain as they were. Only through unity with the oppressed can the new converts truly understand the culture and aspirations of the grass-roots, their beauty and legitimacy, which in diverse ways reflect the structure of domina­tion.

So it is that a person born into privilege becomes solidary with the oppressed. He finds true love and marries a local girl, learns the native customs and cultures, adopts the language and dress, cooks the food, and reverences the wisdom of elders. Historically, Buddha, Moses and Baha’u’llah, were raised in noble families but discarded their titles and privilege for the Cause and Faith they proclaimed, and entered into complete solidarity with the masses. The nascent community that emerged had its own structure with egalitarian principles and institutions. This is the embryo of a New World Order.

- Education - Empowerment - Governance - Oppression Development Justice Oneness

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.