We take a round earth pretty much for granted these days and yet we still can relate to young children and our own ancestors to whom down is down and up is up and the earth is perhaps hilly instead of flat but at any rate planar and fixed in nature and ultimate direction.
Treating the earth as flat works locally; regional maps treat north south east and west as four 90 degree angles apart and who cares about the curvature of the earth when traveling from here to there as long as here to there is within the same region?
Politically, oppression and the analysis of power of one group over another is most often conceptualized as if down is down and up is up. I was reading a 1952-copyright Josephine Tey historical novel about Captain Morgan the other day and had to put it down when she referred in gooey sentimental terms to the young black slaves lining up with pride and enthusiasm to be branded the property of their new owners, and alongside of my nausea was my awareness of how "flat" racism is as a politically analyzable subject. I am occasionally embarrassed by how little I am interested in racism as a subject, because it is so real and so ugly and so deadly in the United States; when I think on it, I keep coming back to how I learned about racism as much as race when I was a kid growing up in the south, and how much I assumed we had already taken care of this issue and eliminated it, and how frustrating it is to still be faced with it as a real problem in the 90s. 1990s. But theoretically it isn't fascinating--what can you say about racism except that it is power by one group over another and that it is stupid and hurtful and unfair?
Occasionally people get mad at me for my stance on patriarchy, that it is a much more complicated and yet more fundamental oppression, one where a simplistic up-is-up-and-down-is-down analysis is only initially useful, and they don't like it when I propose that patriarchy is best understood as a devil's bargain of compromises accepted in large part by both sexes, i.e., society in general, although it remains true that it exists to the predominant detriment of women. In the previous case of racism, I often say that it exists to benefit (at least in the U. S. version) white folks but that these are benefits I don't want, that it is easy to assess and group them and decide that I'd be a happier person giving up those bene- fits if by doing so I could live in a U. S. that didn't include racism. Most of the losses would be material, and would be minimal distributed across all the white people if racism ceased to increase our collective white pile of goodies; things like the relatively high incidence of vio- lence towards black people in America are easily explained as caused BY racism and its tensions, so pretty much anyone I'm speaking to agrees that getting rid of racism doesn't mean taking the existing levels of violence and distributing it all equitably among blacks and whites, but rather than instead we'd have less violence overall. I could even argue that white people would experience less violence overall than we do in a racist society but there isn't enough "curvature" to argue that racism hurts white people enough so that analyzing it as being to the benefit of white people is not useful; it IS useful to look at it that way and we learn very little analytically by taking into account how it makes the lives of white people more miserable. It's pretty flat.
Patriarchy is less flat. I think it is undeniable that predominantly it oppresses women, but men and women interact at close range and segre- gation is only intermittently the norm--almost no one exists from week to week and year to year in sex-segregated parts of society--and benefits of patriarchy to individual men are much more vividly and universally offset by its detriments. So in the case of patriarchy I have found it useful and necessary to move beyond "flat" analyses and look instead to patriarchy as an arrangement that all individual members have tended to accept because it structures (and thereby solves) some issues even though it comes with a nasty price tag the fullness of which they hardly ever realize.
Feminists have posited the oppression of women as fundamental to all op- pression, i.e., "core". Spheres, as you approach their cores, become increasingly less flat as you measure in inches and centimeters--an area or region far from the core seems and feels like a flat parcel, but the same area farther in has to cover mure curvature. Is there perhaps an area of social inequity that is even more curved, less easily described in terms of oppressor standing over the oppressed, and more crucially central to the origins and meaning of all oppression, than patriarchy?
I suggest the institution of childhood, or adulthood if you prefer. The power relationship between children and adults is far less easily reduced to a simple analysis of an oppressor class and an oppressed class (as both parents and children will attest), although there is much to be gained by looking at it that way if you haven't already done so. It IS patriarchy, from a different, lower, and possibly more fundamental viewing angle. It is more immediately and undeniably an arena in which damages to human beings perpetuates itself through vicious cycles and self-reinforcing role games. And increasingly I am starting to think it is where we should be focusing our political attention.
What do you think of when you consider the natural rights of human beings and consider how they apply to children (legally defined in U. S. as under 18 in most circumstances; your nation may vary)? Of the restrictions that are argued for in utilitarian terms of convenience rather than ideals and prin- ciples of human freedom and equality, which ones would irritate you most if you were categorized as a minor? Which bothered you then? How would the would be different if we started playing fair with our children as people? And, after a tip of the hat to the much more complicated arena--I do not pretend to believe that the average 6 month old person can be treated in exactly the same way as a 30 year old registered voter who signs contracts goes to bars and has a love affair, and I don't claim to have the answers all figured out yet--what do you think a world that did not oppress its children would look like, feel like? How would it be different for us at our current ages?
Yours in struggle.