A Dilemma for the Oppression Theorist
Oppression Theory is the theory that differences between groups of people in wealth, power, influence – generally, the good things in life – are due to one group of people oppressing another. Marxists, Feminists, Critical Race-Theorists tend to be Oppression theorists in this sense. An alternative view is what I would call “Eclecticism”. This is the view that differences in the good things in life among different groups can be due to various causes, not excluding oppression of course. For example, we have a society in which the good things in life are not in abundance because the members of that society spend too much time playing golf rather than making things or healing the sick. Let’s call this group “the Golfers”. Now in saying this about the Golfers I am saying that they are to a large extent the authors of their own misfortune. This, of course, is a criticism. Enter the Oppression Theorist. She will reason as follows: criticizing a less-well-off group is harming that group; harming a less-well-off group is oppressing that group, preventing people from oppressing people is a good thing. So, she concludes, preventing someone from voicing the opinion about the Golfers just mentioned is a good thing. Generalizing from this, she concludes that preventing Eclecticism from being voiced at all is a good thing. And, voila, you have the phenomenon known as “Political Correctness”. It is just one step from there to Middlebury College.
“So what is the problem?”, our Oppression Theorist asks. One problem is that Oppression theorists claim to know that Oppression Theory is the correct view. After all, if they just opine that it is true, then (one would think) they will have to allow that others may opine differently. But what is it to know something? To know that something is true is to be able to rationally rule out alternatives. Thus, I do not know that the sincere-sounding offer to fly me and my family for a month to Tahiti for free that I just received over email is genuine because I cannot rationally rule out the possibility that it is a sham. And so it is with knowledge of the truth of Oppression Theory: to have this knowledge one must be able to rationally rule out its competitor, Eclecticism. And for that to happen, Eclecticism has to be voiced and discussed. But that is just what the Oppression Theorist cannot allow! This is the dilemma for the Oppression Theorist.