Paranoia, Oppression, and Power

After having written “Getting in Touch with Your Inner Rich Kid,” I now find myself endlessly amazed at what a microcosm of political power I experienced in grade school.

Take, for example, study halls. In these environments, tremendous emphasis was placed on a total lack of interaction with other students. Talking was verboten, but it wasn’t just for the purpose of silence. We were happy to write down communications and pass them to people, but this too was frowned upon in what, to any reasonable person, would seem a rather extreme degree. We were not to have any unsupervised uncontrolled interaction with each other.

So here is the fractal: if you want to oppress a large number of people, it is very important to prevent them from communicating with each other and thereby getting organized.

My study hall conditioning taught me to be just intrinsically terrified of talking, period. It made me be afraid of the process of communication with other people. There was a presumption that a very bad reaction from higher authority would come in short order. And, in the highly oppressive world of the poor kid public school I lived in, this was not some idle thought. It was a very real threat.

Something that fascinates me about the recent Newtown Connecticut shootings is that this has become a force for causing normally disparate groups to want to start communicating. Whatever fear or hesitation we may have had about talking to strangers, that horrific event has given us common currency with which to have a discussion.

It’s interesting to note that the “Arab spring” started with a similar gruesome death event. One single guy just got fed up with the government and set himself on fire. In the aftermath of so much political turmoil, we have forgotten that there was this one single point that everyone focused on, that caused people (who normally would never team up on anything) to get together and make real change in their lives.

So the lesson/message of today’s blog is this: you may not be in study hall, but the fear of outsiders and strangers… the fear… of opening your mouth and expressing what you really think… is being constantly cultivated. You’ll not see any political ad  giving calm logical arguments in their videos. Instead, they will seek to drive wedges between their many opponents by pushing as many hot button triggers as they possibly can.

Any communication you see of any one entity trying to grab excessive power will try to keep everyone else divided into red vs. blue, white vs. black, male vs. female, young vs. old. Our natural tendencies to seek identity and belonging, and express loyalty generally, make us ever so vulnerable to such manipulation. My 100+ 7th grade classmates could have easily overpowered the one study hall proctor, but we never did. We never had a chance to plan a coup.

Any abuse of power relies upon constant efforts to keep the “abusees” paranoid and divided, because the moment something happens where are paranoia and divisiveness goes away, at that moment, they are in charge.  This is why the average poor kid school cultivates a fear of public speaking, and shames honest calm open emotional expression.

© Justin Locke



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