Oppression as a way of gaining power and thus feeling safe.
It’s simple: oppressing others was and still is an available means to regain a sense of power and control (for some people) in the aftermath of trauma. And obviously since enslaving others, and treating one gender as the property of another gender are parts of our historical realities, people did this on a regular basis to one another. This served to normalize it a bit and also blind us a bit to the dynamic behind the actions.
The ultimate in oppression: “conquering” and killing off “enemies” or “inferior beings” also continues to happen into modern times. Seeing these dynamics as part of trauma based reactions does not excuse these kind of actions, but it may help us see why people did/do these horrible things to one another and help us be less defensive as we continue to dismantle the legacies left behind by these reprehensible actions.
Although brutally ugly to fully acknowledge, we can only make fully informed choices about how to proceed with better policies and behaviors towards each other once we are aware that we have this level of entrenched dynamic. People oppress others because they are fearful at some deep root level. People deny that oppression results from their actions or is happening due to those same self preservation based fears, often combined with greed and ego. It’s as simple and complicated as that.
It is important to bring this dynamic to light, to really see it for what it is and to make this common knowledge and part of our basic cultural awareness. On an individual level, to extricate ourselves from repeating the same trauma based responses over and over, we need 1) safety, 2) awareness of the root issue(s), 3) support, 4) knowledge of different techniques to resolve trauma based reactions, 5) willingness to delve into uncomfortable territory, and 6) space and time to practice those techniques. None of those things were really available to our ancestors.
Fear- Based Cultural Artifacts Abound
On a fairly current cultural level, the decision to build and use bombs to protect ourselves, to fund the military at obscene rates while children go hungry, or the building of governments focused on fear based xenophobia (such as how the Nazis came to power) are knee jerk and hyper vigilant solutions to living, and symptoms of a culture caught in the grips of Cultural PTSD. That is: these dysfunctional cultural norms are symptoms of Cultural PTSD.
All of our “hot button” topics are concerned with oppression.
Oppression and power are inextricably linked. This is obvious to even casual observers. And hopefully I’ve already made convincing enough arguments that humans react primordially (meaning often in knee jerk and unreasonable ways) to anything having to do with power due to how strongly it is linked to our senses of survival.
This is significant because virtually all of our hot button topics are linked to the differences in perception of oppression or how much freedom one “should have” around the issue at hand. In other words these issues become “hot button” issues because they are somehow linked to or threaten our senses of power and so at some level they have to do with our very senses of survival.
Think about any hot button topic- the extent of modern day racism, policies about abortion, policies about the freedom to marry, policies regarding the freedom of and from religion, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, immigration, pollution. What ALL of these have in common is differing perceptions of what is and is not oppression. What is (un)fair and (un)just to one person may be completely trivialized by another due to differences in perspectives. With some of these examples it is super easy to see the connection to oppression. With others, the framing is slightly different. Some gun rights advocates feel that almost any laws on gun ownership are laws that lead to oppression, although their objections to gun laws are generally framed in terms of “freedom”. Similarly big business doesn’t address its objections to environmental laws in terms of saying they would be “oppressed” as it would be hard to convince most folks that international corporations are victims of oppression. Instead big business tries to trivialize the effects of pollution. Basically they are denying that unfettered actions would oppress anyone else (or the planet). So the roots of all these hot button issues are disagreements that are really about how much personal power (aka freedom) a person or institution “should” have vis a vis the issue at hand.
This in itself is a huge insight if we can manage to stay aware of it during discussions about policy.