Sunday, September 12, 2010

We're Not Gonna Take What Anymore?

One of the highly obnoxious, latent human attributes that surfaces with a vengeance in election years is the need to feel oppressed. Somehow, raging against the perceived sources of our oppression scratches such a deep rooted psychological itch that who our oppressor is becomes an almost fundamental component of how we define ourselves. It's a schwaggy little shitstain of human nature but politicians sure are good at exploiting it.

There are a lot forces in the world that keep us from doing whatever we want whenever and wherever we want. And being able to point to some person or group that's the reason for our oppression just feels so damn good.

I'm not talking about the real, serious hardcore - genocide / abuse / rape / slavery / capital O - kind of Oppression, but rather the vague feeling of perceived slights - the ongoing, omnipresent feeling that there's someone out there behind the curtain who's keeping us from being rich, tall, handsome, successful and attractive to babes.

Republicans feel oppressed by government. Democrats feel oppressed by corporations. Rural midwesterners feel oppressed by the eastern elite. The eastern elite feel oppressed by the ignorant masses. Corporations feel oppressed by limitations on free markets. Workers feel oppressed by corporations. Bible thumpers feel oppressed by gays. Atheists fees oppressed by bible thumpers. Gun nuts feel oppressed by big city folks. Hippies feel oppressed by gun nut militias. The rich feel oppressed by taxes. The poor feel oppressed by the rich. Kids feel oppressed by their parents, and parents by their kids. Libertarians feel oppressed by everyone.

Nobody has described this facet of human nature more articulately than renowned anthropologist and sociologist Dee Snider and his Twisted Sister colleagues. As stated so eloquently in the 1984 transvestite-ish power anthem "We're Not Gonna Take It":

We've got the right to choose it.
There ain't no way we'll lose it.
We'll fight the powers that be.
Just don't pick our destiny.
Oh you're so condescending.
Your gall is never ending.
We're not gonna take it anymore.

Click HERE for the video.

What's brilliant about this song is that you have know idea what "it" is. "It" and "the powers that be" can be whatever force it is that's oppressing you. It wasn't just Dee Snider's crazy blond frizzy hair and lipstick that helped Twisted Sister sell a bajillion copies of the Stay Hungry album. It was that they had created a pissed off fight song that could be cranked up in the face of any minorly irritating oppressor that ever existed in the world.

More often than not, the oppressor is not an actual person, but a force, an enigma, a caricature based on a stew of ignorance, exaggeration and imagination. The rougher the stereotype the better. The less information, nuance and perspective, the easier the rant.

Why so much focus on being oppressed? Maybe because it's fun to talk about? There are only so many things you can say about being blissfully happy and satisfied. But if you're oppressed, you can rant about that all night. Or maybe it's the team building aspect of it. How better to bond with other people than by having a common oppressor? The more us vs. them the world is, the tighter knit the "us" group feels. Maybe it's that everyone loves the underdog? The triumphant, the powerful, the successful inevitably start to be too proud and too cocky. Too big for their smug, self-satisfied britches. The winners are the condescending ones Twisted Sister is talking about. In the face of the beaming victors, maybe being oppressed gives you the moral high ground and makes you feel a little better about getting the short end of the stick.

Capital "O" Oppression can spur people to action and lead to positive change. People who are Oppressed can fight for their rights, break free from their shackles and transform the world into better place. The little "o" oppressed, on the other hand, more often just become angry, bloviating Glen Beckian douchebags who blab on forever about whatever forces in the universe are holding them back, without any real thoughts about how, or even any genuine desire to, make things better.

If you're in the former group, good for you. Rock on. Power to the people. If you're in the latter group, I suggest that you consider your predicament in the context of a slightly larger picture backdrop.

Astronomers, philosophers and men of the cloth can't, to date, say for sure whether conscious, thinking beings have ever existed on any of the millions of stars in any of the billions of galaxies in any of the trillions of universes that preceded us. The entire 4.4 billion year old existence of Earth is just an almost imperceptible bat of a cosmic eyelash in the grand scheme of things. And organisms more complex than bacteria and slime didn't arrive on the scene until the last tiny little sliver of time in the Earth's history.

So, just existing at all and having the neurological wherewithal to boot up your Macbook and read a blog puts you in a pretty privileged position. Having an opposable thumb and living at the tippy top of the food chain are gravy. And living in an era in which robots build our sneakers, jet engines carry our big asses around the world and where one of the most pressing health issues is that we're prematurely fattening our kids to death is really pretty spectacular.

So how about this assertion. If you are a human being who is:

1) living in the United States in the year 2010;
2) not clinically depressed or suffering from any other diagnosable mental disorder;
3) making over $30,000 a year;
4) in moderately good health; and
5) not involved in an abusive relationship or physically being held hostage,

then, as far as freedom goes, I would venture to say that the modern world has bestowed upon you about as much say over how your days play out as just about anyone ever. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you shouldn't get your Twisted Sister on. No way. Crank it up. Rage against the machine. Fight the powers that be. But just don't forget what a privileged evolutionary moment in the history of the universe it is that we're living in. You can bitch about your oppressors, but you may not have it so bad after all.


Unknown said...

A contemporary of philosopher Dee Snyder was the revered Rabbi David ben Natan (a.k.a. David Lee Roth). In his own surviving commentaries, he rebutted Snyder's vague defiance against an undefined oppressor. David ben Natan called upon us to be responsible for our own struggles and achievements, to follow our own paths, to search for meaning and fulfillment where ever it may lie for each of us. And, if we cannot find meaning and fulfillment in our own ways, he suggests a simple recipe....simply, jump.

Leslie Ehrlich said...

I utterly agree. If the world were fair, we'd all be much worse off. This realization has helped me through tough times.

Jeff Meyers-Light said...

As a northeasterner, and liberal elitist, I feel oppressed by your notion that we are not, in fact, oppressed by the ignorant masses. Dee Snyder should be sainted, if not for his classic anthem, but for his use of Mark Metcalf (aka Niedermayer from Animal House) as the dad in the video.

Anonymous said...

I have on addition to the small o oppressed list: neighbors of people who blast Twisted Sister. It could be worse, my friends, I could be into Eminem.

Well said DanJan

Anonymous said...

One could argue British Americans, aka colonists, were 'small o'ppressed prior to 1774. Same for Jews in early 1930's Germany. I'm glad some of those people weren't complacent about their situation, or apathetic about their duty in helping to maintain freedom within society. Cattle, on the other hand, do often lead a life of seeming complacency, happy to chew the cud and go wherever directed.

Each of the self-governing citizens of the U.S. Republic has a responsibility to right wrongs, to speak out against perceived evil, to respect the rights of others, to defend the Constitution, and to remove tyrants from office. We do well to at least listen to the complaints of our fellows, lest they soon become our own. Honest debate among private individuals must thrive if we wish expect the same between those in high office. It seldom becomes strident for no reason. The answer is not to quell debate.

It is agreed that actions speak louder than words, and at times the loudest countrymen are those cyring out against self-inflicted pricks. Not all, though.

A son of the American Revolution