Oppression Means Having To Tidy Your Room

There is a lot to be said for the notion of social structures. Without it, for example, the rich would have a much easier time telling us how they have all that money only because they have earned it through their unique virtue.

On the other hand, practically every day we hear social structures adduced as an unbreakable self-defence against the taking of personal responsibility. An algorithm that would enable us infallibly to distinguish legitimate analysis from sophomoric excuses would be a nice thing to have, but I doubt it exists. Adults may recognise the refusal to grow up when they see it, but the infantile take no notice of anything they say. Perhaps we should have a sub-discipline of psychology studying the conditions (contingent and by no means inevitable) under which an individual finally abandons a lifetime of claiming that “X Made Them Do It”.

Karl Popper taught us to find meaningfulness, not in any positive quality of a proposition but in the thought experiment of asking how we would attack its veracity. If, he said, a proposition could never be disproved, then it was not so much false as meaningless. My own everyday version of this is to ask of any claim, “Well, and how could it be otherwise?” If the claimant has no idea of how things could be otherwise, we must wonder about his assertion. For example, the proposition that all banknotes are false falls by its inherent absurdity, since there must be genuine banknotes to be faked; the very word false has no meaning except as a contrast to genuine.

The application of this touchstone to female chauvinism is obvious: when such a person claims that she has been oppressed in some dealings with a man, we should ask her what possible interaction would go free of her concept of oppression. If she cannot reply, if every possible transaction oppresses her, then this is not a real argument but merely a “Heads I win, tails you lose” game. In such circumstances, her stating that she is oppressed is simply stating that she exists – it has no other content. One begins to imagine what form her adolescent surliness must have taken.

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