repression, diversions to real politics

From: Gareth Martin <>
Date: Thu Dec 14 15:51:06 2000

> You can't repress someone who has the ability to leave, they may choose
> not too because the alternative is worse than staying. Equally slavery

Well thats a real lawyer-ism. :) If the alternatives are those such as being able to wander out into the wilderness and starve to deatjh, it's not much of an option. And it's not as if this means that you are free - you are merely an escaped or delinquent thrall, and thus subject to even greater legal sanction. Furthermore, its unlikely that entry into another society would be any easier, espec ially if, as in Celtic society, they have distinct areas of executive authority but a common ideology of what constitutes the right and the proper. A thrall escaped from another tribe is often seen in much the same light as a domestic escaped thrall - note the laws on returning escaped slaves which existed in the last century.

The problem with the argument "you can always leave if you don't like it" is that it appeals to an ideal situation which does not exist. Especially in low-tech societies, which run pretty close to subsitance, survival is about tools: for making fire, for making houses, for making war. Authority is functionally exercised by restrictions on access to these tools, such as the restrictions placed on who can own and carry weapons - usually class-based. To say "you can always leave" is merely to place the burden of freedom an those who are un-free: you imply that they voluntarily collude with their own repression, when in actual fact their freedoms are so limited that striking out on their own is not a practical proposition.

> While it is possible to compare a society with modern western society and
> make a value judgement about their respective merits you need to be aware
> that viewed from the different cultural perspective the opposite conclusion
> could equally be drawn.

No - I cannot divorce my experience of society from my opnions about other societies. The opinion I arrive it is inevitably composed of the information available to me and my own direct experiences. But that does not mean that I cannot identify a society as repressive - what differs by cultural perspective is whether that repression is a Good Thing, or not.

Our modern societies, post-revoklutionary social democracies, generally hold individual freedom to be paramount (in theory, anyway). Many other societies, including earlier european ones, regarded such equality as a Bad Thing, because if gave the hoi polloi equal wight with the elites, which will (of course) lead to the collapse of civil society as the 'bestial' and 'primitive' agendas are unrestrained. Many, many societies justify their repression of one part of their population by another part on the grounds that this is socially (or economically) necessary for the manitenance of that society.

Whether a society is repressive or not can, I think, be determined by us, but only from our perspective. Whether or not the actual INHABITANTS of that society, both oppressed and oppressor, regard this as an issue of concern is an entirely different story. In many societiesm, social repression is just seen as the "natural order" and value judgement about good and bad do not enter the debate.

> Britain, the US, Canada and Austrialia share an equivelent unity of
> legal lore and cultural tradition. To describe them as a single state
> would be absurd because each has it's own independant legal authority.
> The nearest equivelent would be the individual celtic tribe but even

An interesting analogy. I would point out that significant chunks of British society do indeed consider themselves repressed by the USA for precisely that reason, and I have heard similar sentiments expressed by Canadians. Sometimes in the UK we refer to ourselvs as the 51st state, or "Runway Europe"; there is a significant fraction of the populace who want the "special relationship" with the USA terminated, for the UK to stop being America's bagman in Europe and withdrawal from NATO at the earliest possible opportunity.

This hegemony of Britain and its ex-colonies certainly has a formal ideological element; we are "Anglo-Saxon capitalisms" as opposed to Asian- or Euro-capitalisms. This ideological commonality imposes certain conventional wisdoms on the political process - the tussle Blair just had with the European Union revolved around his unwiollingness to give up the UK veto on tax and social spending, precisely becuase the UK (or more accurately, its dominant business and political figures) wish to retain a US-style "flexible" economy, despite the clear fact that levels of public service and standard of living in Europe are higher than here. So while the US and the UK do indeed have seperate legislative and executive bodies, they share a common ideology united under the Church of the WTO which many people object to and actively resist. My economic behaviour is circumscribed the legislation of a body married to a particular ideology - just as seperate Celtic tribes shared visions of soverignty, rights, freedoms and the like shared by a body much wider than the individual executive branch making decisions in the immeidate case.

What I said about the Celtic tribes is that they have an ideological architecture that carries out many functions we think of as state functions, such as standardising default punishments for various offenses (notably blasphemy), establishing (and often formally investing) secular powers with their authority and legitimacy, and overseeing the formal relations between individuals (births, marriages, deaths). Although the celts do not have anything approaching the modern concept of the state, their society remains one with a remarkable degree of cultural consistency over a really, really big chunk of Europe. And this culural consitency frames the debate in which "freedom" is discussed, and how the very term is interpreted. Although Celtic society is certainly less INTERVENTIONIST than Roman society, it isd not IMO any more free merely becuase of that.

Powered by hypermail