Author, Marilyn Frye, defines oppression as “…one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which…are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict to penalize motion in any direction” (Frye, 151). Frye continues to define oppression using the analogy of a caged bird and how it is trapped, restricted from experiencing success. The way that Frye defines oppression allows any reader to grasp the gruesome effects of being oppressed. The approach that she uses gives a summary of oppression as a collective experience rather than simply a noun.
When hard-working people feel compelled to work for the sustainability of themselves or their dependents, yet their non-laboring supervisors take credit for the work they produce, this is called exploitation. Anwar Shaikh states, “the dominant class maintains itself by controlling a process through which the subordinate classes are required to devote a portion of their working time to the production of things needed by the ruling class” (Shaikh, 165). Exploitation negates any sense of autonomy oppressed people receive through working.
Oppression and exploitation feed off of each other to survive. People suffer from oppression as it is structured into the fabric of our institutions. While in an ideal world no one would be oppressed, that is not something that can be eradicated immediately. Those who are oppressed are more susceptible to exploitation, as they are constantly fighting just to keep their heads above water and make ends meet. Exploitation would not exist if there were no oppressed people.
Explain and discuss the four elements of critical thinking outlined in class. Be sure to provide examples of each element.
Thinking critically is the process of actively synthesizing relevant information prior to forming opinions or taking action. Critical thinking is comprised of four elements: assumptions, time and place, alternative analysis, and reflective evaluation. Firstly, assumptions are things accepted to be true with the absence of supporting evidence. An example of this would be to assume that Senator Bernie Sanders would be a decent President. Though some may argue, there is no empirical evidence proving Sanders would be successful as President. Assumptions can be positive or negative; to determine such, one must consider if their assumptions reflect reality or shape reality. If an assumption reflects reality, this means it accurately portrays the truth. However, if an assumption shapes reality then it shows a mangled, incorrect version of the truth. We, as a society, must identify the assumptions we make everyday and challenge them to test their validity.
The second element of critical thinking is time and place, which refers to our social location. It is crucial to be constantly aware of our position in culture and society. Just as assumptions were made regarding Bernie Sanders, time and place should be considered as well. We need to divulge the country’s future needs based on the time and place of our current society. Considering today’s social location could either support or hinder Senator Sanders’ potential success. Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging one’s own culture or society against their own. Famous sociologist, Wright Mills, defined the term “sociological imagination” as to understand your own experiences you must first understand those of others. Ethnocentrism relates to Mills’ sociological imagination as both require us to compare experiences against those that differ and be aware of our surroundings before making judgments or opinions.
Having alternatives is the third element of critical thinking. Alternatives are other ways of viewing the world. For just one issue, there could be infinite points of view for solving it. Using Bernie Sanders again, he and Hillary Clinton could both stand for lowered education costs. Alternative analysis would show that Sanders and Clinton fought for education reform differently, yet worked toward the same goal. Another example of alternatives was from class when we compared Martin Luther King and Malcom X- both leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. Although these famous leaders had different plans of attack, they both fought to achieve the same goal.
The final element when thinking critically is a reflective evaluation. Similar to alternatives, reflective evaluation requires one to have an open mind. Being reflective means finding a balance between skepticism and pessimism. Once a situation is evaluated reflectively, they must realize that things can always change. Considering Bernie Sanders, a reflective evaluation would not assume every point he addresses would happen while also not assuming he would not be able to implement any of them. A successful reflective analysis would also require the person’s acceptance that at any point Senator Sanders may announce his inability to address a matter.
Sociologists study individuals in groups as a way of revealing the social structures shaping collective experiences. Marilyn Frye’s article “Oppression,” defines oppression and introduces a structural perspective. How does she define oppression? How is this different from the definition offered in class? How and why does Frye distinguish oppression from suffering? What is her structural perspective of oppression?
In order to fully grasp the meaning of oppression, it must be explained as an experience held by individuals, which is exactly what Marilyn Frye did in her article “Oppression.” Frye defines oppression as:
“the experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction. It is the experience of being caged in: all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby-trapped” (Frye, 151).
The imagery of a caged bird in this definition paints an incredibly realistic picture of oppression. The mental image of a bird being confined to a small cage with no chance of freedom is something anyone can picture. This allows all readers to comprehend the severity of oppression, regardless of their experience with it.
The definition offered in class stated “oppression is any state of affairs where a particular group of persons is denied equal treatment on grounds of characteristics socially acquired or inherited.” These two definitions differ greatly as the class version only touches on the treatment given towards an individual whereas Frye’s definition touches on the effect of the treatment.
After defining oppression, Frye distinguishes it from suffering. She explains how suffering is simply a temporary ailment whereas oppression lasts throughout a lifetime. Frye continues to distinguishes this difference when saying “human beings can be miserable without being oppressed, and it is perfectly consistent to deny that a person or group is oppressed without denying that they have feelings or that they suffer” (Frye, 149). This means that people can suffer without being oppressed but people who are oppressed are concurrently suffering.
When thinking of oppression structurally, Marilyn Frye has yet another visual description. On pages 151 and 152, she gives the example of a man opening the door for a woman. From the microscopic level, the man lifted a barrier from the lady’s path, which would not be considered oppression. When looking from a macroscopic level, the man goes out of his way to do that one deed for her, where there is no assistance given with laundry, writing reports, with children. Though this door-opening example is a stretch to relate to oppression, the foundation behind it is the same. If one focuses solely on an individual portion, they will fail to see all the problems sitting just outside their lens. Whereas if they take a few steps back and view the situation as a whole, the most critical problems can be solved first.
Drawing on the readings dealing with the different entry point of analysis, compare and contrast the ways that identity, class and anti-politics deal with oppression.
Identity politics is the trend for people of certain religious, racial, or social backgrounds to form political alliances, avoiding traditional political parties. Consider the last 44 U.S. Presidents for example; 43 of them were Caucasian men. Historically, the majority of voters have been white; their use of identity politics when voting is the reason it took 44 tries to have an African-American President in office. This vicious and dangerous cycle does not account for two elements of critical thinking: alternative analysis and reflective evaluation. Our country’s history with identity politics prolongs the prevalence of oppression as the elected politicians as well as the American people fail to have an open mind about ending it.
Class politics compares people of each class against each other. For example, the middle class is rivaling with other middle class people, where there will always be someone who succeeds and someone who fails. This process acts like a barrel of butter being churned; when it’s constantly churned, it keeps all the ingredients together instead of separated. When this approach is done in society, they make sure that no one is forever “on top” of their class and holding more power. Class politics does not allow for people who are oppressed to leave that state. With this political system, it is hard for people of one class to move up a class, especially oppressed people.
Anti-Politics is the absence of political activism. Many examples of anti-politics have arisen over the past few decades with young voters. The polls were experiences dwindling numbers of young voters coming out to vote. When interviewed, young people felt discouraged that their voices were not being heard; this dejected feeling caused them not to vote. Anti-politics is incredibly dangerous to our society. If people do not go out and vote, then we have the potential for a man like Donald Trump to win the presidency. In the article entitled “Anti-Politics and the Illusions of Neoliberalism” by Tad Tietze and Elizabeth Humphrys, they say “there has been an unmistakable trend towards popular disengagement from politics, with a corresponding tendency by political classes to take positions increasingly hostile to their constituents” (Tietze & Humphrys, 1). This article talked about the impact anti-politics and neoliberalism had on society and politics. Anti-politics continues to feed into oppression as the lack of supporting a change means no resolution will come. Oppression will continue to be ever-present in our society until we make the necessary changes to getting rid of it.