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Towards Radical Freedom & Justice


Towards Radical Freedom & Justice

(This was written a few years ago as an attempt to sketch my own variant on _Liberating Theory_)

The world is suffering and oppressed. This suffering and oppression seems so huge, so unmanageable, so saddening. Many people in our society turn away from the suffering and oppression of the world and put all their thought and effort into private security and comfort. For those who suffer, this is not an option. They resist where they can. It is their resistance that forms the hope for a better world. A better world does not come from governments, religions, or violence. It comes from the converging efforts of the suffering and oppressed, and their partners, to change the world.

The book, Liberating Theory (LT) by South End Press, identiifies four broad kinds of oppression and resistance: economic, political, relational (kinship in LT), and community. Economic suffering is poverty and economic exploitation. Political suffering is tyranny and authoritarianism. Relational suffering is sexual and gender repression. Communal suffering is racial and religious.

LT’s view of four systems of oppression and social struggle are an advance over the narrower viewpoints that preceded it, such as Anarchism and Marxism. However, the more I have thought about social struggles, I find myself delineating eight distinct arenas of social struggle and change.

The suffering and oppression in our world is systemic. There are structures, institutions, and ideologies that perpetuate suffering and frustrate liberation. For convenience, we can name the four main systems of oppression as Authoritarianism, Capitalism, Sexism, and Xenophobia. Each term is generally usable, though often the systems of oppression are more complex than these classic titles indicate.

A unified vision of resistance and liberation will address all of these areas. As I have reflected on these four systems of oppression, I believe that each one can be sub-categorized into two or more sub-systems. For simplicity, I will limit myself to main sub-systems. I choose these specific sub-systems as they correspond to leading modern social movements.

Beginning in reverse order from that used above, I will start with communal sub-systems. Probably one of the most pivotal social movements of the 20th century was the Civil Rights movement. This uprising of resistance altered forever the landscape of race relations in USA society. It won significant gains, but the battle to end racial oppression is far from over. Racism is one of the main sub-systems of xenophobia.

Another of the prime sub-systems of xenophobia is sectarianism. This can be religious, in the sense of Christian or Muslim fundamentalism or secular as in the case of Communist State Atheism. Since the middle of the 19th century movements have emerged which aim at worldwide community that transcend religious and ideological prejudices. These movements are based on the vision of a common humanity and active cooperation in social progress. These movements both work within existing sects and in dialogue across sectarian boundaries.

Moving on to sexism, I referred to this category as relational or "kinship" as LT does. I see two subsystems here, one focused on gender and one focused on sexuality. Gender is the condition of being male or female and gender repression is the denial of basic human equality to any person because they are one gender. The brunt of this repression has fallen on women, though men are often repressed emotionally and in other ways in the socialization process that reproduces sexism.

Sexual repression takes a variety of forms, such as heterosexism and erotophobia. The former denies basic human dignity to persons who have a sexual attraction to their own gender. Erotophobia affects both same-sex attractions and heterosexuals. The movements for sexual liberation in society have done a lot of good, but there is still much more work to do in the name of sexual equality.

As I consider economic repression, I find that there are two sub-systems that have provoked resistance. The first sub-system centers on the exploitation of labor, and the second sub-system centers on exploiting the natural environment. A holistic economic vision will address both the right use of nature and labor.

Finally, the two sub-systems I would highlight in the political area are governance and security. Governance in most of the world today is dominated by Authoritarianism, the repression of democratic participation. Although tyranny is officially not practiced in the USA, in fact, most people have almost no real power to influence political decisions. Security structures in our society are centered on the imposition of force. Both police and the military enforce political repression with violence. Non-violent alternatives to warfare and policing have made great strides in the past century, but a non-violent world is a far off possibility.

A radical vision of freedom and justice seeks to embrace all the best of social liberation movements. A holistic radical sees that the sub-systems of suffering and oppression are intertwined. Xenophobia, authoritarianism, sexism, and capitalism all reinforce each other. If we eliminate capitalism, but not authoritarianism, capitalism will rebuild itself. If we eliminate authoritarianism, but not xenophobia, authoritarianism will rebuild itself. In order to make a genuinely radical new world, we need to support multiple struggles of resistance.

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