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The Origins of Oppression and the Discipline of Hope

Why is there oppression? Where does oppression—classism, racism, sexism, and so on—come from? Why do so many people use violence against one another? Why do we kill and get killed in war? Why do a small number of people control most of the resources?

Does oppression exist because someone felt fear, did not know how to deal with the feeling, and decided to find some oppressive way to deal with it? Did those experiencing fear decide that they had to fight to keep their position? Did this develop into the class system? Did this lead to organised fighting—to war? Did this lead to the creation of institutions based on fear?

These questions come from my struggle to understand my own situation, particularly early times of wondering what was happening in me, to me, and around me.

Brian Smeaton
Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion 
list for RC Community members


Recent DNA evidence shows that at one point, the number of Homo sapiens decreased to only a few thousand people, whom we are all descended from.

When a population of large mammals falls to that small a number, the risk of their becoming extinct is quite large. It appears that as a species we barely survived. It’s possible that patterns of terror related to survival were installed at that time (as well as earlier). As complex societies developed (around ten thousand years ago), the fears of our ancestors were woven into the structure of society—and we have lived with the resulting oppression ever since.

I remember a quote from Harvey Jackins: “If only a calm voice could have stepped in at the point when the societies were developing and said, ‘The organization is good, but you don’t need the oppression.’”

I sometimes give a short talk called “Hope Is a Discipline.” I suggest that people remember three numbers: ten thousand, three hundred, and sixty. These numbers represent the following:

  • Oppressive societies have existed for about ten thousand years.
  • Only in the last three hundred years have there been organized, widespread liberation movements. (Nearly every oppressed group on the planet now has allies thinking about how to combat and end its oppression.)
  • Only in the last sixty years has at least one group of people figured out how to eliminate oppressor patterns and restore humans’ inherently loving and cooperative nature. 
  • Other hopeful facts:
  • The U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776) declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . .” Even though it referred only to white men who owned property, it was a powerful concept. Every liberation movement since that time has been nurtured by the understanding that all humans are equal.
  • As industrial society increased in complexity in the 1700s, workers had to learn how to use math and read. They began to read and understand the words of owning-class people. Capitalist society was spelling* its own doom! Education of the masses works against society’s oppressive nature.
  • The Internet has made it possible to communicate to people anywhere in the world, and we humans have defied attempts to limit its spread. Enormous amounts of human creativity and hope have been released.

On a bad day in our oppressive society, it helps me to remember the above and to actively look for what is hopeful—from the past as well as in the present. This is why I say that hope is a discipline. If you want to build a case for hopelessness (which the dominant media often does), you can find lots of evidence. However, looking for evidence of hope is more useful. When I remember to look for it, I always find it.  Sometimes it allows me to discharge.

Dan Nickerson
Freeport, Maine, USA
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
list for RC Community members

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00