Sunday, 1 November 2009

A Simple Equation

You don’t need to be Einstein to work it out.

Power x Arrogance = Oppression

Yes, it is as simple as that. You allow a system to concentrate power in some at the expense of others, then even the slightest arrogance would bring about oppression.

Give the Post Office management the power to make cuts to the frontline workforce while increasing their workload, and on the basis of such changes reward themselves with more money while the postal workers get nothing – and sure enough, the postal workers are left with no choice but to take strike action. What do you expect them to do? Say “thank you for reducing our numbers and making work more difficult so that you can get a better pay packet while we get zilch”?

Give the police a system which, according to the latest newspaper report, has just appointed a senior police officer who was “personally criticised for failings in the Jean Charles Menezes shootings” onto the management board of the Independent Police Complaints Commission – and are we now more or less confident that wrongful police actions against us would get a fair hearing?

Meanwhile in America, give the insurance and pharmaceutical companies so much power, and they protect their astronomical profits by leaning on enough politicians to stop them approving anything near a system which provides universal healthcare for what is supposedly the richest nation on earth. In the meantime, those without cover just go on suffering and dying quietly.

Isn’t the ‘arrogance’ part of the equation the bit we can do something about? Remind people of their ‘corporate social responsibility’, their ‘conscience’, the ‘respect’ they ought to show their fellow human beings … but that is the problem with arrogance, people afflicted with it don’t give a damn what you say to them. If they were convinced they could get away with trampling over you, they wouldn’t give it a second thought. You see them everywhere – in organisations large and small, some paying lip service about consulting those their decisions would affect, some not even bothering with the superficial niceties.

The only thing we can do anything about is the power part. Do not let power be concentrated in the few who will owe us no accountability whatsoever. Do not acquiesce in a structure of oppression. Do not forget that even if we as separate individuals lack the influence to correct unjust distribution of power, we could organise ourselves to take a collective stand.

It is often said that a true test of a civilized society is how well it treats its weakest members. An equally important test is whether even the most arrogant cannot get away with pushing others over to achieve their own ends. We can never get rid of arrogance, but we can put a limit on the accumulation of power and thus end oppression.

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