A Note on the Oppressor-Oppressed Axis

A commenter writes,

It seemed obvious to me that one could apply the oppressor-oppressed axis by noting that Castro was the oppressor and the Cuban people were the oppressed.

I need to clarify that the oppressor-oppressed axis is not about oppression per se. It is about classifying certain groups as inherently oppressed and others as inherently oppressors. A couple of generations ago, the Left would have considered manufacturing workers to be oppressed. Today American manufacturing workers (and former manufacturing workers) are treated as oppressors, because they are white. Meanwhile, very affluent people can be seen as oppressed, because of their skin color or sexual orientation.

In the case of Cuba, poor Cubans were granted the status of “oppressed,” and rich individuals and corporations had the status of oppressors. Castro, who personally accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in net worth while he was dictator, was regarded as a friend of the oppressed because the government provided the health care system.

When it is applied appropriately (for example, during the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960s), the oppressor-oppressed model is to the Left’s credit. However, when applied unthinkingly or hypocritically, I think it discredits the Left. Some progressives realize this, but many do not. I think they would benefit from reading my revised Three Languages of Politics when it appears next year.

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11 Responses to A Note on the Oppressor-Oppressed Axis

  1. Butler T. Reynolds says:

    The same hypocrisy can affect the civilization – barbarism axis.

    Remember when the Mujahideen were considered freedom fighters rather than Islamic terrorists?

  2. BenK says:

    It seems obvious that the various axes exist in tension, not exclusion. People who like civilization don’t love oppression; they just believe that people who are free and starving are less well off than those who are well fed and serfs. Some people believe that starvation leads to serfdom, others that serfdom leads to starvation; and still others, that a starved mind is worse than a ‘calorie restricted’ body…

  3. Slocum says:

    Today American manufacturing workers (and former manufacturing workers) are treated as oppressors, because they are white.

    But manufacturing workers have always been mostly white (and culturally conservative). Isn’t it more likely that they used to be considered oppressed when they were a reliable voting block for the left and no longer are because they switched sides?

    • Andrew' says:

      Yeah, saying it is because they are white is an annoying framing. The democratic party left them. It left them for some of rhe same reasons manufacturing left them.

  4. collin says:

    . A couple of generations ago, the Left would have considered manufacturing workers to be oppressed. Today American manufacturing workers (and former manufacturing workers) are treated as oppressors, because they are white.

    Analyzing the oppressed/oppressors axis, I think in the United States it is a lot of regional economics working here. In California or Nevada, the working class are predominately minority populations and the majority of bosses are still mostly white citizens. (Look how much HRC won Cali which is giving her the popular vote lead of 2M and it was the Hispanic hotel workers in Las Vegas that carried HRC there.) And in the Midwest, the oppressed are the WWC who think the rich white liberals on the coast or Midwest are using free trade and immigration to oppress them. (Again listen to Trump’s last campaign ad here.) In reality this is a lot more confusing especially since their are growing number of minority bosses especially if you think about Steve Bannon complaint that 2/3 of tech CEO for Asian-Americans. (I can’t wait for Hollywood to have more Asian-American Producers as the Far East Asia is their growth markets.) Or think about the dynamics of voting in Minnesota in which all the counties outside the Twin Cities area voted Trump while the urban 7 county Twin Cities are heavy HRC. Why? Somolian immigrants are doing the working class Target counter or nursing jobs in the St. Paul & Minneapolis which in theory lowers wages in the rest of Minnesota. (I am not saying this is perfect economic logic because I wonder without illegal immigrants will the WWC in West Virginia do seasonal agricultural work in California.

    In the USA today, for the first time ever, it is the white poor in West Virginia or Maine that have least economic opportunity than the coastal urban minority poor. In California all the recent crime increases are white crime not minority crime!

  5. freetofu says:

    I just find all this fetishizing of what so-called 1st principles annoying and silly.

    But this graph on income levels of voters in 2012 and 2016 clarifies some things about what actually happened.

    From this page.

    And into moderation we go…

  6. Lord says:

    It would be better to use a positive term than negative. Rather than oppression is it about equity, fairness, and justice. Who is being treated unfairly and who treats others unfairly, the powerless and powerful though power itself is not, but using it abusively or operating under a system that does. It is difficult for the affluent to be treated unfairly though there are country clubs and the like that do, and low levels of women ceos suggest there may be though disentangling history, choice, and custom from discrimination can be difficult. It can be easy for the affluent to treat others unfairly even unconsciously because we all want to believe ourselves deserving and are unreflective.

    • Andrew' says:

      Whereas Civ-Barb are (viewed as) opposite ends of a spectrum, Oppressor-Oppressed isn’t an axis, it is one end. The other end is “equality,” or “protector.”

  7. BC says:

    How would the oppressor-oppressed axis be applied to school choice and charter schools? School choice most helps minority kids in inner cities as suburban public schools are already pretty good. In a state ballot question in Massachusetts, suburban voters rejected a charter school expansion that urban voters supported. I would think that minority school children would count as more of an inherently oppressed group than unionized school teachers. (Aside: why would white manufacturing workers be oppressors but not white unionized school teachers?) Progressive opponents of charter schools mostly cite “siphoning” funds away from public schools or leaving non-charter students behind, but those funds are following the minority kids and expanding charter schools would increase the number of kids that can go to charter schools.

    I see the oppressor-oppressed axis in progressive rhetoric, but it seems inconsistent as a predictor of underlying progressive policy positions. I don’t attribute the inconsistency to hypocrisy. Rather, there are many conflicting groups that can claim oppressed status. A bettor predictor of progressive policy positions seems to be that of a Government Industry lobbyist. Suppose there were a Government Industry lobby, similar to the Energy Industry lobby, that lobbied for policies that would expand demand for services from the Government Industry: politicians, bureaucrats, non-profits, think tank analysts, public sector employees including public school and university faculty. Progressive policy positions seem to align pretty well with this hypothetical Government Industry lobby’s positions. Even with an arguably small government position like being pro-choice on abortion, the progressive version includes government subsidies for abortion, which in turn requires government employees and non-profits to administer, think tanks to analyze, etc. The only exception that I can think of is progressive opposition to defense spending, but progressives tend not to work for defense contractors and the military, so the Defense Industry could be separate from the Government Industry. This characterization may seem uncharitable, but I have yet to find a progressive policy position that runs counter to that which a Government Industry lobbyist would hold. Can anyone think of one?

    • BC says:

      One might consider progressive antagonism towards police, but this antagonism does not translate into desire to shrink police departments. (In fact, progressives are of course adamantly opposed to arming citizens, which would make them less reliant on police.) Rather, progessives want to more strictly regulate the activities of police — to police the police — which in turn requires more government employees to craft those regulations and ensure compliance.

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