Empowerment and entitlement

“Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well.”

“But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or ‘sub-oppressors.’ The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity.” — Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter 1.

Being nice to weak people is a way for the strong to reinforce their power. And weak people’s first inclination when they get power is to abuse it. There are so many traps here.

The horns of this dilemma seem to me to spring from a distinction I’ve been trying to work through — between empowerment and entitlement. Entitlement is visible all over; in Freire’s much-criticized but actually quite apt gendering, it is the attitude of men and people trying to become like men. With nobilities in mind they imagine that power means they should get all of what they want, that everything should go their way, and that others will be means to their ends. Any sort of compromise with complete autonomy looks like subordination, any challenge to it gives offense.

With this as the contrast, empowerment has to start with rejecting the subjection of others to one’s projects, desires and prescriptions. It means radical responsibility for having one’s own junk together and not taking it out on anyone else. First. For example, not offending but also not taking offense.

Reciprocity, compromise, responsibility, interdependence, respect all go into empowerment. But I’ve run out of steam so this post must have been mostly about entitlement.

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Words and things, pt. 2 « Dead Voles

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