Mistakes of Progressive Socialism
An educator I know is apparently a leftist, or should I say “conservatively challenged?” Being of the left is completely normal and maybe even expected, for he is a full tenured professor. For understandable reasons, people most concerned about injustice are likely to enter certain professions, including teaching, journalism, law, and the clergy.
Anyway, I asked him to read my recent article on Cooperative Learning and he responded by suggesting I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. This book is helpfully published without charge on the Marxists Internet Archive, owner of the Marx.org Internet domain. Or I should say “manager” rather than “owner” since these are communists and ownership is a crime.
I did read much of the book and it suggests different issues than those my acquaintance may have had in mind. Freire’s work is clearly Marxist, but that just makes it political opinion, extreme but defensible, right? I beg to disagree. Reading this screed brings new vividness to the gory reality of communism’s failure.
Oppressed Versus Oppressors
The book talks of oppressors and the oppressed without defining those terms. It briefly implies that the propertyless or poor are always oppressed and that colonists are always oppressors, so the author gives a partial definition by example. Whatever the definition, I am quite sure that the author includes me among the oppressors. And very probably you too, dear reader. He implies that some oppressors can be salvaged if they join the revolution in pure comradeship with the oppressed, though he admits that impure beliefs, including most liberal charity, are insufficient.
Freire implies it is the educator’s job to show the oppressed their humanity and illustrate their oppressors’ inhumanity, allowing the oppressed to see the divide, providing them self respect, enabling understanding of their oppression even if they had been co-opted into the oppressor’s value system, and basically setting up the necessary conditions for revolution. Freire further argues that the educator must not lecture his students, but help them guide themselves, for lecturing is practicing a form of oppression. Thus Freire is talking about a form of Cooperative Learning, and that is probably why the book was recommended in reply to my arguments against Cooperative Learning. Freire believes to lecture is to oppress students and annul their creativity, and there he may have a point. My point is that independent learning can often beat even cooperative learning in fostering student creativity and self esteem.
Freire emphases colonial oppression, probably seeing his native Brazil’s poor underclass as products of colonialism. Here he has a point, since the coming of Europeans resulted in the death of most natives throughout America, usually through disease. I don’t want to defend colonialism, which after all was often justified by a religious evangelism that I deplore. But it is a difficult issue, since the likely alternative was to leave the rainforest as a glorified zoo, isolating indigenous people without access to western technology or wealth, and that does not seem very humane either.
Freire also implies that the oppressed have a license for violence, though not their oppressors.
I am fairly certain this conception is fantasy, fantasizing of oppressed versus oppressors, and fantasizing the communist theory of history as a process inevitably leading to human freedom without property or the state. History has already proven that history is not a process, that human “progress” is not inevitable or even enviable, that property is necessary for motivation and wealth creation, and that encouraging such revolution often tends to empower totalitarian dictators, murderers of the worst possible sort. It has been estimated that communist regimes worldwide have directly or indirectly killed 100 million people, many directly with bullets and prison camps, and many more indirectly though starvation. I believe Stalin’s regime starved maybe 30 million just in Ukraine, dwarfing Hitler’s 6 million murdered Jews. I can even argue that fascists were a branch of communism, nationalist rather than stateless, but still hard core socialists and central planners. So in my mind “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” is also associated with the evils of Nazi Germany.
We all feel oppressed by life, since life is inherently unfair. Even if one could create a perfectly fair society, biological life would still be highly unfair, with the certainty of mortality and the certainty that we must kill other life to stay alive, if only plant life. All of us are unhappy and dissatisfied with life, at least some of the time.
Most have not the wisdom to understand that life is not really greener elsewhere, that our problems and unhappiness are shared by seemingly more fortunate people. It is true that others don’t have our particular problems, but they do have problems of their own, problems that usually seem every bit as bad to them. Having separate problems, we assume our problems are worse. We think we would be happier if we only had someone else’s problems, lesser problems in our eyes. So we often assume that there are “bad” people out there who profit while we suffer, oppressors draining happiness from our lives.
That feeling of unluckiness, inferiority and anger is bad enough. But it gets worse when some people adopt an extra neurotic defense for their unhappiness and anger. My theory is that such peoples’ anger and guilt are subsumed into a quest to help the “truly oppressed”, the poor and disadvantaged. This allows them to feel better about themselves, showing the world that they are good and righteous people. It also allows them to channel their anger over their own unhappiness, directing it against those people who they perceive as unfairly happy at the expense of others.
This is where things really get evil. People begin fighting some phantom injustice that is mostly in their neurotic imagination, fighting for some underclass that almost always does not include themselves, channeling their anger in a seemingly altruistic way. The unfortunate result of this insanity is the creation of a real underclass, for they teach people to see themselves as victims, to see themselves as truly powerless members of a lower class. The progressive “helpers”, having directed their anger to revolution, having calmed their guilt by fighting injustice, may end up as the new upper class, creating an intellectual distance between themselves and the “oppressed”, becoming society’s leaders and teachers, and sometimes becoming murderous totalitarian dictators as well.
Others join the same fight, not always due to neurotic unhappiness and guilt, but out of simple greed, a desire to conquer and redistribute wealth. It is ironic that greed might be one of the components of a creed which disowns all property. We end up with an unholy combination of greed and altruism, justified by a neurotic fantasy that brooks no argument nor opposition.
The ultimate result is a new order, with central planners who are trained for little except fighting injustice. Even at its best, central planning is somewhere between difficult and impossible. The inevitable outcome is the wholesale destruction of society’s wealth and even our environment. There may be a bit more fairness, though not much since the system still elevates planners and encourages corruption. But there is definitely much less happiness. Ask almost anyone who has ever lived under communism.
This is inhumanity, the very opposite of what Freire assumes. Given this virtual certainty about communism, his book is inescapably evil. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” was written in the 1960’s and so its author had some excuse for misunderstanding the lessons of the twentieth century. No such excuse exists today, but still the communists, socialists and progressives march destructively onward, driven by guilt and greed.