Thursday, November 5, 2015

Oppression in a Democracy

Watching the circus that is the 2016 American presidential campaign has me thinking about democracy, and specifically American democracy. It is loud, long-winded, and laughable at times. Can you believe just how much the candidates reveal about their characters through the things they say and the opinions they express?  What we need in America is not "to be great again" -- we're as great as we need to be, respected by the rest of the world for the most part, feared at times, criticized at others. No, I think America needs to be careful not to lose its democracy.  It would be so easy. The seeds already exist.

For example, in the last decade or so, disagreement expressed publicly has been labeled "unpatriotic." Opinions expressed publicly have been attacked and denigrated rather than respected and considered. There is a powerful movement now of an "Us vs. Them" mentality that was expressed by President George W. Bush when he said that if a country wasn't with us, it was against us.  That is, he would not listen to other country's opinions and suggestions for dealing with the surging terrorist activity during his presidency. His government had the same approach to Americans who disagreed with its strategy, i.e. invading Afghanistan and later, Iraq. If I disagreed with the government, I was "unpatriotic."

Discouraging the expression of ideas and opinions is a first step in establishing an oppressive government and society. The active suppression of ideas, opinions, and disagreement oppresses the people who are trying to express what they think. This active discouragement can be found in America.

In the family: A parent who may feel weak, insecure and powerless, exerts control over other family members through fear and intimidation. The controlling parent will insist that the other members never talk about the family with "outsiders," closing the family system. Usually this kind of family also harbors destructive secrets such as sexual abuse and/or domestic violence. The free expression of ideas and opinions does not exist, and dissent or disagreement against the controlling parent is punished. This is oppression on an intimate level.

In the business world: in large corporations, small businesses, and non-profits, any policies that discourage the free expression of ideas and opinions that disagree or dissent against company policy or management is oppression. Unfortunately, employees experience this far more often than expected, and it's usually presented to them as a benign "request" to not speak negatively in public communication about the company whether it's to the media or on the internet.  Of course, companies want to present a positive face to the world and keep secret anything negative. This is a terribly unrealistic and weak way to be in the world for both business and individuals. Companies benefit the most from transparency, from trusting their employees to want the company to succeed, and from respecting their employees and their ideas and opinions, even if management has other ideas.

There is also more and more a movement by employers to "spy" on their employees, not only in the office but also in their employees' private lives outside of the office. I remember having to deal with the question when I was job hunting of whether or not I'd give a prospective employer my social media information so they could see my social media activity. No, I would not, and if asked for it, I'd respectfully withdraw my application for employment. I'm not sure whether a company spying on employee activity outside the office is just immature, grade school behavior or dangerously oppressive. I tend to think it's probably both. This kind of employer behavior reveals the employer's sense of weakness, insecurity and powerlessness, and its need to control through fear and intimidation. "Big Brother is watching you."

Can there be oppression in a democracy? Yes. A resounding yes. And it is insidious in the way it creeps into everyday life, within a family system that becomes closed and secretive, or within a closed and secretive company whether a multinational corporation or a non-profit.  Any time the free expression of ideas and opinions is suppressed in the name of loyalty or presenting a positive face to the world, it is oppression. Families and companies who are open to the world, listen to dissenting opinions and/or ideas, and welcome examination are strong, healthy, and powerful. That is positive. That is democracy.



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