Archive for September 24th, 2011

September 24, 2011

The oppressive dialogue of choice

I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since I had a really intense debate with a friend regarding the nature of choice.

I’ll say straight off that I did a really bad job of expressing my position. Partially because I didn’t have the right vocabulary and words to express it.

My friend has always been a great advocate for the importance of choice in life. She believes that everything in life is about choice. She also, as a consequence, believes that we ultimately are responsible for our lives, since everything is about the choices we make.

Now my friend is intelligent and knows there is inequality in the world and that everyone does not have the same choices available to them. However, her position is that there are always choices that people can make to better their lives. To survive. I’ll certainly grant her that.

However, when I read stories like this, where people, in order to survive are eating cow shit, I think the entire argument is flawed and prevents real change from happening. I’m sure for every person eating cow shit to take their medication there are those who are holding on to their dignity as human beings and dying because they won’t eat cow shit to survive. I want to live in a world where no human being ever has to face a choice like this.

Pointing to a few exceptional people who have not only managed to survive but thrive in oppressive conditions and saying that they made better choices helps absolutely no one. It is very similar to how the model minority myth has continued to be used to oppress both Asians and other people of colour. How it is used to erase the realities that people are living in. How we make the oppression of marginalized people their own fault, because they could have made better choices.

I did agree with my friend that there are always choices, but I disagree that no one is trapped by circumstances. The people of Swaziland are trapped. They have the choice to eat cow shit so their HIV medication works or die of AIDS. What else can you call a situation where there are no good choices available other than being trapped by circumstances?