Empire Questions for Discussion

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Following today’s discussion of the ways in which we might witness a formal and informal empire in our modern world, I am interested to hear your thoughts on (any one of) the following questions:

  • What is an aspect of the Formal or Informal Empire that interests you? How does it “determine key outcomes in the dominated society”? Why does this attract your attention?
  • Who typically derives economic benefits, access to important resources, control of strategic military territory and other forms of power? In other words, what might we put in the _____ in the above diagram?
  • And finally, is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for that oppression? If so, how?

Please respond to one of these questions in the comments below. If you are arriving at the post after many of initial posts and comments, feel free to reply, extend, challenge or continue dialogue with your peers by replying to their comment.

57 Comments:

  1. I think that yes, it is possible to benefit from oppression and not be an oppressor. Decent white people will never actively oppress other races. But they still will benefit from centuries of systemic oppression. Link for your reading. If you don’t want to read that basically Jose dropped the “S” in his name on job applications (becoming Joe) and suddenly received plenty of callbacks. Now no white person would consider this a problem. Sadly, even if you go to equality rallies and would never use racial slurs every white person will at some point in their life be given priority over a Person of colour. This is just one example I could have used to show the various ways that you can not actively oppress a group and benefit from oppression but, hopefully, you get the idea.

    • Hi Karolina,

      Thanks for the linked article! This is the sort of thing that leads us to the question of how we go about combatting this sort of thing. Is there a way, do you think, that we might ensure that persons of colour are allowed a more fair shake in the job market, or other ways in which systemic oppression operates?

      Mr. J

      • My original answer to your question would have been whitewash all names and then choose jobs but that may cause POC workers to be discriminated against at the workplace as the employer was expecting a white person. Possibly replace every applicants name with a variable (as replacing x for a number in algebra) and then all applicants are racially ambiguous until called in for an interview or such. But then you start to look at intersectionality and how Men of colour can still experience male privilege and would we have to replace all variables (Gender, name, age, etc…) with a placeholder? To sum that up, until society progresses further down the path of intersectional equality there probably is no way to allow POC a fair shake in the job market.

        • I like your idea of replacing factors with variables. The anonymity that it would allow definitely help to lower discrimination against certain groups and cause positions to be filled (or interviews to be given) based on skill and personal qualities. You mentioned how that would lead to many variables being added into an application form however you should consider the instances where information on gender, age, or religion could be important in assigning positions. For example, there is a summer camp called Timberline Ranch. To work at Timberline, you need to be a Christian. While this may seem discriminatory, it is a Christian camp where there are services and prayers happening throughout the week. This leads it to be logical for the camp to hire a Christian over someone of another religion. Gender could come into play with any job that could require care-giving. At a daycare, for example, it may be important for there to be just as many females as males to allow for a child to feel there is always some to talk to that is of the gender they feel more comfortable talking to. In a case like this, it would be beneficial to know the gender. However, I do feel you are right, in a job that doesn’t require certain aspects (like gender, age, etc.), it would be very difficult to eliminate all discriminatory factors off of an application.

    • So I noticed that you discuss ‘active’ oppression a lot, and I thought it would be interesting bring up the concept of ‘inactive’ oppression, better known as implicit bias. Implicit bias is the the idea that one can have thoughts, feelings, and more relevantly, biases outside of their conscious awareness or control. So for example one may not actively discriminate against POC, but when choosing between a POC and a white person to hire their subconscious is more likely to choose the white person- and that doesn’t mean that they secretly hate POC, it could just be because they’ve been exposed to a very white-centric society, and their subconscious has reacted to that. So I guess what I want to know is if one would consider someone who is implicitly biased to be an oppressor. Does the fact that their subconscious discriminates, (sometimes merely because of the society they’ve been exposed to) make them an oppressor?
      Also, if you want to learn more about implicit bias there’s a really interesting study going on called Project Implicit (you can check it out here: https://www.projectimplicit.net/about.html ), and they even have some online tests that can suggest if you might have some implicit biases: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

  2. Question: is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for that oppression? If so, how?
    Answer: This is going to be a little bit exaggerated, but say you have the US and you have Russia and they were both in the middle of a nuclear war. Then, some aliens come down (On their own accord) and oppress all the Russians, the Americans would benefit greatly from this as long as the aliens leave them alone. Substitute the aliens/countries/time for another country/time and this example will make more sense.

    • Hmm, interesting analogy, Kevin. But I think the exaggerated nature leaves some holes: a nuclear war, for one, would – so far as we have been told – destroy the ability for earth to support life, and so the Russia / US conflict wouldn’t last long if it were to begin to unfold. Assuming the two countries were at war though, and the aliens did come down and decide to subjugate only the Russians at first, would there not be some compulsion for the Americans to take up arms (perhaps even with the Russians) against the aliens to defend their common humanity? If the aliens are so willing to do battle with the Russians, why would the Americans expect that they wouldn’t be coming after them next?

  3. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I think at times it is possible to benefit from the oppression of others without being responsible, but blissful ignorance doesn’t mean that the oppression doesn’t exist. On one hand, we benefit from technological advances such as our iPhones, and to us there isn’t any possible way we could be contributing to the oppression used to create them (unless we know better). But if this oppression is occurring without us knowing, is it our job to stop it? If that is in fact our responsibility, then doesn’t that make us responsible for the oppression continuing to occur?

    • Oooh, interesting points, Fiona! Once our ignorance of our privilege comes into focus, aren’t we accountable for the choices we make going forward? For example, couldn’t our choices as consumers change to reflect a new ethic when it comes to our phones, or other technology? Or, if we are given the freedom to choose how we spend our money, or behave in our lives, isn’t the price of this freedom the responsibility to educate ourselves about the resultant suffering our purchases, or actions, create?

    • I think you bring up a really valid point, Fiona. Once we acknowledge the oppression that is contributory to our own privilege, do we have a greater responsibility to address it? I would make the point that even if we find ourselves ignorant to the human suffering that is involved in the production of an iPhone, for example, we are not eliminated from the economic equation. When we buy these kinds of products, we create demand, whether we acknowledge the associated oppression or not. As a result, this demand encourages further continuation of production (and the oppressive practices that go along with it). Thus, we find that both parties, the ‘blissfully ignorant’ and the ‘socially aware’, are contributory groups of people towards the issue of human oppression, and that their personal choices can have similar effects. So, perhaps we could say the ‘fault’ is spread amongst us all, but should a higher responsibility be placed on those who can make informed choices about their actions? Or as consumers, should we all be held equally accountable?

    • Q: What is an aspect of the Formal or Informal Empire that interests you? How does it “determine key outcomes in the dominated society”? Why does this attract your attention?

      I think the most interesting part of the “informal empires” for me is the aspect of sports “empires” like FIFA and the Olympics. As a huge sports fan I was originally confronted by these issues while watching a John Oliver video about the next FIFA tournament being hosted in Qatar, and the different aspects of corruption with the FIFA organisation. I was also interested in the comment that was discussed in class in terms of the Olympic committee being an empire, with the way that they can change things in the cities where they host their games, similarity to the FIFA organisation.
      I have included a link to the John Oliver video and would be interested in reading your opinions.

  4. An aspect that interests me that falls within a Formal Empire, is the Olympics. How can a event that is meant to bring countries together in peace have so much controversy? The 1936 Olympics were a way for Adolf Hitler to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy while secretly arresting all Romani people and shipping them off to concentration camps. In 1972 in Munich, members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September. Eleven athletes, coaches and judges were murdered by the terrorists. Jumping to more recent events, Russia literally invaded the Ukraine and started a war with them nearing the end of the Sochi winter games. Although these games have yet start, the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has already raised questions. A country with starving people, a corrupt government, and a failing economy decides to host The World Cup in 2014. Maybe they thought it would put money from tourism back into the country. However, deciding to then host the summer Olympics only two years after I think, is insane. Where are they getting the money to build Olympic villages and venues? Are they digging a deeper hole into the countries debt? Or is this money appearing out of thin air? I think people get wrapped up in their country’s pride and the “go for the gold” buzz during the Olympics to really take a look at what has happened to get those Olympics up and running.

  5. However can there be “good controversy”?
    Some may consider the “Power to the People” demonstration by Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics to be inspirational and defiant against the racism being brought down upon African-Americans during that time while others, may think differently.

    • That certainly is a memorable image, and was terrifically controversial at the time (and maybe even since) as many people felt/feel that the Olympics is not the forum for such political acts or speeches. Which is somewhat interesting, given the points raised in your earlier post: were Russia’s opening ceremonies, or Hitler’s Olympics, not overtly political statements? Didn’t these games present a particular conception of these countries’ cultures and place in the world? Can such events ever really be ‘neutral’? And if not, how do we decide when actions or protests “cross the line”?

  6. No, we are not *technically* responsible for the benefits we create. We won’t be punished if we live our normal lives. But at some point, don’t you think after “winning” for so long, and having all these benefits, do something? (Using iPhone scenario from class)
    We don’t have to pour all of our GDP into developing countries, but don’t you think after reaping these benefits for so long, that we would stop abusing these low pay “workers”, and other land’s resources? Why do keep abusing them instead of looking for alternatives?
    But then it all comes down to us humans. Do we even care? Do we *really* care about what happens to developing countries? Should we worry about suffering people if it wasn’t us who hurt them? Is it our problem? If not, who’s is it?
    I feel at some point, we as a society have to take some responsibility, abusing other countries for our own growth, because if we just keep on going as is, the winners of the world will keep winning, while the losers, just lose.

    • Thanks for these provocative phrasings of the questions at hand, Eric. I tend to agree, that it is up to us – all of us, sure, but “winners” likely more than anyone who might be on the losing end of things – to change things. Aside from the cruelty and injustice that the status quo leads us toward – whether child labour, foreign occupations, and the like – a more complex result of this type of oppression can be difficult to predict, or quell.

      In a wide ranging study of the causes of suicide-terrorism, for example, researchers found that the number one cause of such acts was the occupation of foreign armies (here is a link: http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/10/18/its-the-occupation-stupid/). Given this reality, western nations fighting their way toward peace in the middle east seems an awkward course of action, no? If we (the global 1%, so to speak) continue treating the developing world as (pick one) our labourers / our refrigerator / our gas-station / our toilet, won’t the costs of these privileges soon outweigh the price of pursuing a more true sense of justice?

  7. I think that it is possible to benefit from oppression without being responsible for it. The reason that I think this is that we are living on land that was stolen from the natives but we were not part of the people that wared with the Aboriginals and forced them to live on reserves but we are the ones that live in a beautiful and massive country full of wonders that we stole from the indigenous people.

    • This might be true in the sense of the past, I suppose, Oliver. But, and here I suppose we are on similar turf to the iPhone examples, once we are aware of this injustice – and it is a continuing injustice, as last week’s reading can attest – are we not responsible in some way to change things looking forward?

    • I see you point of view Oliver, however if we are to just sit by enjoying what we’ve been given without taking notice of what it is doing, then does that not make us doers of injustices as well. While we are holding land, if it was granted from others or not, if it be of others home and dignity and our efforts in maintaining it be destroying those, then are we not being ignorant and non-activists of human rights. If you are to say that this was or wasn’t our fault initially, it can still be something for which we must stand up for the safety and rights of others, for if we are truly nice and caring people, then we wouldn’t let any injustices slip by, our fault or not, without any action taken against their favour.

  8. One aspect of the formal empire that interests me is laws. It is very interesting in that laws represent the values of the society. An empire would have significant influence, especially one as prominent as the United States of America. An example on how America and Canada’s laws affect our society is the thought of equal rights. Currently, women and African-Americans have the same rights as middle-aged white men. That’s not to say that they are no longer discriminated, but the idea of equal opportunity appeals to us. However, if we so happened to live in a society where, by law, women were not allowed to vote, we may think that is the social norm, and the fact that women do not vote would be familiar with us. Laws that were created and enforced influence people. How often have you wanted to do something, and said to yourself, “Nah, that’s against the law.” Laws imposed by the government give our society the idea of “right” from “wrong,” and as time goes on, values change and laws will change. I feel that an empire’s ability to affect the society’s thoughts this way is extremely interesting.

    • This is an interesting angle, Eric. For many years, Canada and America’s laws have served as an example and beacon to many people throughout the world: definitely a positive aspect of these large and influential nations! But I am also curious about the nature of equality, these days. We’ve seen in recent years that despite laws ensuring equal opportunities for minorities and women that they are still underpaid, over-criminalized and more likely to be victims of violence than those in the dominant groups. So while we have equality under the law, we have yet to fully achieve it in application, which may lead us to conclude that mere laws themselves are not enough. …or that maybe we need new laws?

      What do you think?

      • It’s true that we have equality under the law, but not necessarily in our social norms and society. Mere laws, as Mr. Jackson says, may not be enough.To achieve equality in our country, laws are definitely a step in the right direction. But equality has to become a social norm, or a part of the culture we live in, to see any real change in our society. Laws only work if people agree to follow them. I think that the only way to effectively enforce the equality laws we have is to practice what we preach. That means standing up for equality in our social spheres and educating ourselves about issues that minorities face. If we all call out racism, sexism, homophobia and so on where we see it, we might be able to change social norms. In addition to people like you and I changing the status quo, I think we do need new (or at least amended) laws. As pointed out in class, equality isn’t necessarily fairness. For example, everyone may have to take the same test for an exam. That’s equality. But if some people are blind, or haven’t had access to the same education as others, or don’t speak the language the test is in, it is not a fair test. There are probably some laws out there that could be amended to become less equal and more fair. It could be argued that we should strive for fairness, not equality in our laws.

        Eric, I found it really interesting how you noted that laws could change the way our society perceives things as “wrong” or “right”. Doesn’t that seem a little backwards? To me, it seems that how society perceives “wrong” and “right” should influence the laws, not the other way around. It’s also interesting that laws influence our lives so much, but I hardly know anything about the process of how laws are made or what laws we have in Canada.

  9. For me, one aspect of both the formal and informal empire that interests me is military power. The military has a lot to do with politics and the economy (both of which I am also interested in), that are both key factors in determining the success or failures of an empire. From the formal empire perspective, which was that the military was there to take over new land and acquire resources. While with an informal empire, the military is mainly there to protect the country and its assets, but also exert influence in other countries. That could be done by either sending troops to fight, or assisting the countries government by sending supplies and aid. I feel like if you have a strong military, it can help control the outcomes in a society, because if you assist another country it builds good relations, and results in importing/exporting/trading, which is good for the economy. But from the political aspect, militaries can be strong enough, that their government is the military, as in a military dictatorship like Egypt was in the past. I have always taken an interest with the military and historic wars, in that “History always repeats itself” and its pretty interesting topic. I would say that the whole western world is what I would want put in the blank space, but taking everything into consideration, it’s definitely America. From their military power, to economic benefits and even popular culture, America is the “now” empire that influences the whole world in almost every way. (Sorry, I accidently answered 2 questions before realizing that we only had to do one).

  10. Q: Can you benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for the oppression
    A: This question to me really sounds like a highly opinionated debate, though my side of the argument is that no. Technically we are not humanely supposed to be able to benefit from others oppression and still bypass the consequences. It is only that today in our modern society, we are educated on this fact, however we do not note it in day to day thinking to be able to recognize that we are the driving force for oppression and also the encouragement that corporal companies need to continue with there act. I can make an example that the early European settlers did oppress the natives, though they didn’t recognize it as “oppression” through their beliefs and in no way associated the meaning of oppression to their actions. On the contrary, we today as North Americans are fully aware of the acts of oppression brought upon countries and nations that give us the luxury we thrive with today, so we are in no way excused like the early Europeans were, since we know and understand both sides of the story and most would regard the acts as oppression. So how do we actually “get away” with the benefits? In truth, I believe that we don’t and probably will never do so, because it is now just become the efficiency of the market to create products this way, and if we eradicate this act, society as we know today with its wealth and ease of access to necessities and pleasurable goods will definitely be at a lower rate for the few or it may not be possible at all.

  11. An aspect of the formal empire that interests me is the United Nations, but more specifically the United Nations peacekeepers. My background in Model United Nations along with my general love for current events, global conflicts, and politics piqued my interest in this topic and I also hope to expand my knowledge on this issues through Socials this year.
    One observation that I made was that in the media, we generally see only one side of the issue, and rarely do we see both sides equally, with issues about the United Nation (peacekeepers) no different. Here in Canada, influenced by the power of the UN, we usually see their perspective, but rarely do we see the true desires of the countries affected. As the peacekeepers hold great power in their hands, even though they may not use force, by being able to influence others around them such as a country’s government they can make many people see their influence as an ideal solution (possibly including myself). More than that though, what truly intrigues me is how they determine the need to intervene on a global scale. Where do we draw the boundary between an individual country’s hardships and a global problem and what allows only a certain group of people to make this decision? I’d definitely like to look further into this during our Empire unit by observing how decisions making was executed in some other successful and unsuccessful empires on Earth.

  12. Q: Can you benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for the oppression?

    Yes, you can benefit from the oppression of others. Lots of students including myself benefit from other’s oppression. One example is when I fail a test, I go around and ask others to see if they failed as well. I am not responsible for their failure, but if they failed, I would become joyful as now I know that i am not the only one.

    • I understand how your example plays out, but how would this work in a more formal setting/situation? Another example might be if I briefly ran low on money and was struggling to stay afloat for a month or two, so I called my friends in Africa who told me about their neighbours who are living out of a small mud shack and have one outfit that they wear every single day. I felt better because I know feel well off in comparison to my friends’ neighbours. I understand your point that I again would not be responsible for their situation directly, but maybe something through the routes has caused them to be like this and I am now benefiting. Or maybe there are other situations that would represent a stronger injustice through indirect benefits.

    • Both of you have good examples. But I think that when Mr. Jackson talked about it in class he lead the question in a direction not so much, can I use the oppression of others to make myself feel better? But more, am I responsible for the oppression of the people that work in harsh conditions to make, my cloths, soccer ball, iPhone, ect.? That question is a bit harder to answer. And it is really hard to do anything about it because; iPhones, nice cloths, and sports equipment are just part of our life. So that leads me to a new question.

      What can we do to stop those harsh working conditions for the people that make our iPhone, cloths, or anything else?

      • Jackson, to answer your last question I think that everyone has lots to learn about where and how the things they use everyday are made. I think it’s true that we are responsible for the oppression of people who are put through disgusting working conditions daily just to make us things that we probably don’t appreciate enough. Becoming aware of the fact that in many ways we are benefiting from the oppression of others is a step towards changing our mindsets and possibly taking action to try and make a difference. For example, I really love my IPhone, it has probably helped me through many difficult life “struggles”, but I have to accept the fact that it was made by someone who was paid poorly in an unacceptable working environment. I need to be aware of the fact that by purchasing the IPhone I am giving my money to a company that supports the use of sweatshops to create their products. Becoming aware of this is a big step towards possibly making a change. Spreading this knowledge, shopping from companies that support equal work for equal pay, and getting involved with anti-sweatshop organizations to work towards creating better working environments for people overseas would also be good things to do. You might also want to try giving up the IPhone or only buying used smartphones in the future, this way your money won’t go directly to Apple, if you REALLY don’t want to give up the IPhone.

  13. Though I wasn’t here Wednesday, I think I have a general sense of what’s going on.

    Being responsible for the oppression of people differs in many different situations. Though I would say yes, you could benefit from the oppression from others but at the same time not be an oppressor, but that’s only in the case of indirect oppression. Indirect oppression, would be oppressing someone from a standpoint where either many other people do it, or not directly influencing the oppressed. Direct oppression would refer to the standpoint where you are the oppressor, and where you are keeping them in hardship.

    An example of indirect oppression would be buying meat, for say. Consuming meat falls under the category of indirect oppression as many others do it, and because you’re not directly responsible for killing the animals that you consume.

    Bringing this example into direct oppression would be the farmers, or the people who slaughter, torture, or in general terms, oppress animals that we eat. Though in the modern world, slaves aren’t as popular as they used to be, and a lot of the oppression that happens in jobs or manufacturing plants are voluntary. Even though they may not like that job, they work there for money.

    Though In my opinion, oppression is part of human nature, and we, as humans, generally like to take advantage wherever possible. As you can’t stop the whole world from eating meat or buying iPhones, I don’t think that you should be held accountable for indirect oppression.

    In conclusion, I don’t think that consumers should be responsible for the un-informed decisions that they’re making due to the two factors listed above. As for the oppressors, it completely depends if the one being oppressed is doing it voluntarily or not.

  14. Can you benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for the oppression?
    I think there is too much focus on who to blame and which side is right. People generally just go with the flow, and what’s wrong and right will be decided by historians looking back hundreds of years from now. Groups of people we consider evil (like nazis or terrorists) are mostly people just doing whatever they are ordered. They aren’t stupid or blind, they’re simply being regular human beings and obeying authority. If a third world country that we take advantage of because of cheap labour becomes a global superpower, then North Americans will become the new “evil”. Personally, I don’t feel responsible for slave wage iphone labourers because I hate technology. I guess the answer to the question is no, we can not benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible. People are aware that we took this land from Aboriginals, but they can bury grudges and blood with the wealth of the land. However, I think the term “responsible” is bad. Regular people regularly make mistakes, so there is no point in trying to accuse someone of their faults.

  15. Who typically derives economic benefits, access to important resources, control of strategic military territory and other forms of power? In other words, what might we put in the _____ in the above diagram?
    This question boggled my mind during class……but after I thought about it, I think that we, ourselves, are our own “empire”. You rule how/what you want to do. You are responsible for your own success and failure. Yes, you, yourself, isn’t exactly an “empire” since it’s not like one person ruling the whole nation, but it still somewhat works because:
    We obtain our own economic benefits by being employed. This one is pretty obvious since jobs=money!!! But we are paid by working in jobs and that is how we make money.
    We can also gain our own access to important resources. Depending on what the important resources are, we can usually ask/demand for it (ex: by asking a business to supply it), buy it (ex: buying food, clothes, and a house), produce it (ex: farming to produce food), or learn it (ex: education, which is a very important resource).
    We can’t exactly control an actual military that fights in war, but we can control other “types” of militaries. Social media based military would be a main one. What I mean by social media based military is, well, virtual arguments that start from social media. We can all control what happens on social media because it is so easy to just comment on a status or reply to a comment written on YouTube. Yes, we can’t exactly control what the outcome of the argument will be, but that is what happens for all arguments and wars. You just have to keep on fighting/arguing until you win. Another type of military we can control would be a cultural based military, such as religion, language, and arts based. For example, people who believe in religion and people who are atheistic/agnostic always have debates about who’s right. Yes, once again, you can’t control the outcomes, but you can control what you say and which side you are on.

  16. Q: Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for that oppression? If so, how?

    A: It is possible, however unlikely that one can benefit and not be the cause of it. For that to happen it would require a third party to oppress someone. Then if the person that is being oppressed had some conflict with someone else, like if they stole something from them. Then the people they had conflict with would benefit if the third party people gave them whatever they had stolen and stopped them from fighting.

  17. So is it possible to benefit from oppression even if you didn’t cause it? I think so. Like Fiona said, we use products without thinking where they came from, and these products can often be made using oppression. Another example would be law. There are many disputes about how foreign workers are not paid as much as Canadian citizens. Although the common worker is not responsible for this issue, they still benefit in the form of a larger paycheck.

  18. I agree with others in the way that I think the only way you can benefit through oppression without feeling guilty about it is if you don’t realize it’s going on. Using the example of a smart phone, there are probably a lot of people who own phones that don’t realize what went on to make their phone. If you don’t know it’s going on, you can’t feel guilty about it.

  19. Question:
    Who typically derives economic benefits, access to important resources, control of strategic military territory and other forms of power? In other words, what might we put in the _____ in the above diagram?

    SANTA HAS BEEN CHEAPING ME OUT FOR FIVE YEARS NOW. ALL THE TOYS SAYS “MADE IN CHINA”.

    As like Fiona said in class, the Chinese can still be considered as a modern day empire. Although it was small compared to the other empires at the time, today, it is the largest country by population and the third largest by area. The country itself, has about 12 percent of the world’s minerals, which include: coal, iron, tin, copper, lead, zinc, and much more. And I think we all know the China has become one of the greatest countries to trade from. So in other word, I think China could possibly go into the blank.

    Another option could be the United States of America. I know America is not really an Empire but I fits well with the informal side of the diagram with the political, social, economical, and cultural sub-categories. It is said that there are more cars than there are people in America, and it is causing a huge impact to global warming (Economical?). Socially, America is the founder of many social media sources including Google, Facebook, and Twitter. This has traveled all across the world and is being used frequently. And the US has a military system (I don’t know what to talk about this).

  20. Although some may disagree, I think that the blank space in the title should be filled by “white”. At least in our current day and age, the white males tend to rule what we could still consider “empires”. the most current ones would, in my mind, include the American empire, the Soviet empire, and the Nazi Germany empire. The one trait they all shared in common was white males. Although centuries ago empire were ruled by the Egyptians and the Asian countries, we now have just the white western society. Nazi Germany was united by the common belief of eliminating everyone who wasn’t perfect and white. They had enormous influence over land and resources, to the point where a world war was sparked. The massive Soviet empire also operated under the control of the whites, and grew to a be a military super power that could threaten the entire world. Finally, the ever-lasting American empire, although currently run by Obama, is the white empire in it’s prime. They can turn the tides of any war they choose to participate in, and they consumed a record high of 142.35 BILLION gallons of gasoline back in 2007. At least in the modern day, the only people in control of massive empires are those who don’t have any colour in their skin

    • Wait I may be wrong, but isn’t the USA in like, more debt to China then they can ever repay? And for like the last month or two, Saudi Arabia has been systematically destroying the US’s economy through the gas price. So the US isn’t always in control; actually, many other countries control the US in some respect.

  21. Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for that oppression?
    This really depends on how you look at it. If you are not aware of yourself doing this, is it truly your responsibility? And what about if you just found out that your benefits are coming from the oppression of others…since you are now aware, does that make you responsible? In my opinion, either way, if you are using something that is beneficial to you at the cost of the unjust labour of another being, then yes, you are partially responsible. No matter how much people wish to avoid the guilt, they are still playing a role in the scheme of things. Using the iphone example, if there weren’t the consumers (which are people like us) to buy the phones, the bosses wouldn’t have a need to make the phones since they wouldn’t have anyone to sell their product to. With no boss to force the workers to make the phones, those workers would be free of this under-paying, unfair job. However, the fact is that people aren’t just going to stop buying iphones, not only because people use it as a valuable tool in their everyday lives, but also because some are not fully aware of what goes on behind the scenes. With the continuous sales of this product, oppression will continue to be an issue in places such as China, Taiwan, and other locations that make this product. The workers will keep working, the bosses will keep ordering, the consumers will keep buying, and the cycle will continue. The saying ‘oblivion is bliss’ really does mean something when it comes to situations like this. Now I know ahout the suicide nets that are put up to catch the jumpers that wished to end their lives to escape their work, and now whenever I use these products, I will live with the weight of knowing that there is a cost to my benefits. I believe that we all hold a piece of the responsibility, however, I also believe it is our responsibility to do what we can to end this oppression.

    • Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for that oppression? How?

      For the purposes of this discussion, lets take a look at our terminology.
      Oppression! David Wellman wrote the best definition for Oppression that I have ever read: “Any form of oppression is a system of advantage based on one of any given individual’s social identities.”
      Furthermore, Mr. Wellman spoke at length in an interview about how any human can be both dominant, and targeted simultaneously. In America, a white woman may be considered dominant in race but still be oppressed with regards to her gender. I, as a white male, may even be dominant in both those categories – but as I grow into old age, I will eventually grow out of total social advantage and face the possibility of oppression.
      Here is why I am bringing this up.
      As a member of a dominant social group in any given society, your actions and your words have more weight because of the respect that accrues to your position. An agent of a dominant social group can have great impact through the media or what have you, and when one of these agents decides to speak up it makes an impression.
      Examples of this occurring commonly are when you hear a man speak out against a male friend about sexism, or a heterosexual person reprimand someone for insulting homosexuality. Peer to peer relations have been known to be one of the most efficient forms of communication, and keeping in mind that different groups have very varied accrued social status levels, you can hopefully follow my thinking when I say that these dominant members have the most chance at creating change.
      Ok! Moving on.
      Who, most often, benefits from the oppression of others?
      Wait for it.. these dominant social groups! In fact, you could argue that they are only even “dominant” BECAUSE of the oppression of others. The Romans, great thinkers that they were, did not have the national manpower to build even one of the great cities that they created in their heyday, yet with the advent of slaves (the classic “targeted” group example, slaves were oppressed for no other reason than the fact they did not live in a Roman City when they were dominated) they managed great feats of architecture, and became celebrated for these achievements built on the backs of the ones they tortured and belittled.
      So, these “dominant” groups seem to be at the centre of things. They (we) are both the benefactors of oppression and the key to closing the door on it. They (we) in fact, owe our very dominance, that which gives us those two unique qualities, to the groups that are currently suffering the lesser position in this push/pull game.
      Remember the original question now.
      I discount ignorance as an excuse.
      Isaac Asimov said: “Democracy does not, in fact, state that your ignorance is equal to my educated knowledge.”
      Unfortunately, as ideal as it may seem, to accept that ignorance relieves responsibility will never interfere with the cycle of oppression.

      TL; DR:
      NO! If you are benefiting from oppression, you are in power. If you are in power, it does not matter if you are ignorant, you now have the responsibility to make an impact. This is social contract, this is human nature: power = responsibility.

      • This is an energetic and lucid look at the topic that asserts a convincing point, Jamie. Nicely done. I found this to be a particularly powerful endnote: “… to accept that ignorance relieves responsibility will never interfere with the cycle of oppression.”

        The next question from those who may cede that such imbalances exist, but are unclear as to how to proceed, is “So what am I supposed to do about it?” Become politically active one’s self? Continue to educate yourself and others? Or are there more tangible actions that can take place on the day to day that may alleviate or seek to extinguish the cycle of systemic oppression?

        Thanks for the insightful input to the discussion.

  22. Okee so can we benefit from oppression and not be responsible for that oppression? Well in my mind, that depends how you define responsible. Responsible as in, your actions are helping the oppressor oppress, or responsible as in, what you are doing as well as what you are NOT doing, is helping the oppressors oppress. If the first is your definition, yes, we can benefit from oppression and not be responsible. Refering back to I forget who it was who did the America/Russia Nuclear war and the aliens example, yes America wouldn’t be responsible for the Russians oppression; as in,they aren’t doing anything to help the oppressors. But what they are NOT doing is definately helping the aliens oppress. Yes America wouldn’t be responsible, but they wouldn’t exactly be innocent either. I think its the same thing with the IPhone example. (I say as I type tis on my IPad.) If we know about an issue and we, in full knowlage of what our lack of action will cost, turn a blind eye, I think that is wrong. Think of it from the oppressed point of view. If you were being horrible abused, you hated your life, you were basically enslaved, and you knew that there were people over the Atlantic ocean who knew about your plight, who could do something to save you, but refused to do anything about it because they didn’t want to risk their convinience and comfort, because they were enjoying the byproduct of your suffering too much- I don’t know about you, but I would hate their guts. That is to say OUR guts.

    But also, from our point of view, these people are very far away, and don’t seem really real to us. Can we really expect us to throw away our populatity (sometimes) comfort, enjoyment, recreation for a bunch of people who hardly seem any more real than Julius Cesear or some other patriarch of history?

    Just food for thought.

    • These are some provocative questions indeed, Hannah!

      Your first purpose – that we define what we mean by responsible – is an important place to start. You point out that there are (at least) two varying degrees of “responsibility” that speak to the contrast between active participation in oppression and more subtle decisions one makes to either act/intervene in the oppression or not. While noting that neither are particularly ‘innocent,’ it is interesting to note that to the person suffering from such oppression would still come to the same conclusion: they would hate the oppressors’ guts, and perhaps rightly so. Given this, it is interesting to think of whether or not there really *is* a difference between these two types of accountability, or if we just find it easier to absolve ourselves of passive forms of oppression.

      Which relates to the second (or third…) point you make: that distance plays a part. If people of distant regions of the world can’t seem “real” to us, how can we authentically empathize with them so that we might more easily ‘do the right thing’? What is the idea that allows us to extend our views of what is right and wrong to people we know exist, but cannot physically see or speak to?

      This distinction is also interesting as it might apply to the ethical imperative to care for the environment, as many of the effects of our actions will not lead to an improvement in our own contemporary lives but those of people who may be alive hundreds of years in the future. If we wait until we are seeing more direct impacts of climate change, the world’s leading scientists keep telling us, it will be too late; however, as long as the victims of our actions are far away, either in physical space or into the future, we are not likely to take the drastic actions that are increasingly required.

      So the big question (or at least one of them… for me at least…) then becomes: what is the moral argument to be made for acting in the here and now for people that are not, literally, us. If passive and active contributions to oppression are equal (in the eyes of the sufferer of that oppression), but we have a difficult time living this out when it comes to strangers, especially, what are the components of the argument that will convince us to act more than we have thus far?

      Well, in addition to the fact that we are just uncomfortable with people hating our guts ; )

      Thanks for the provocative post! I look forward to seeing you explore some of these ideas as we move through our socials semester.

  23. Q: Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for that oppression? If so, how?
    A: I think that that question can’t be answered with a solid yes or no. Obviously something like an iPhone is beneficial to an average north american, but by buying that phone knowing that people have suffered making it, you are partially responsible. If people didn’t buy phones, we wouldn’t have people slaving away to make them. On the other hand, people don’t stay up at night because the guilt of having an iPhone is so heavy. People just don’t really think about it because nobody likes to think about it. We choose to ignore it. I don’t think that people should throw their iPhones out the window but if we could somehow as a society, put a stop to slavery, we wouldn’t have live with the fact we apart of this chain of unjust labor.

  24. Q: Can you benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for the oppression
    This statement can go both ways; however, in my point of view, if you aren’t harming, you’re not actually helping the situation either. Without being directly involved in the oppression, doesn’t mean you aren’t partly responsible for the oppression. For example, the bystander effect shows that even though you aren’t directly involved in the bullying, not reporting the issue makes you some what responsible for the oppression of others.

    • I agree with you. I think that you cannot benefit from the oppression of others without being responsible. In our society, nearly everyone benefits from the oppression of others. Going back to what Mr. Jackson said about the iPhones, by even purchasing an iPhone, you are keeping those factories open that have slaves work for them. Though you may not know it, all this information is easily accessible online. By buying that IPhone, the end result is you supporting that company and helping them stay open. Because they are still open, they will still make slaves work for them. Even if you are not directly forcing slaves to work, by purchasing that IPhone, you are indirectly making them work.

      I also agree with you on the fact that even if you aren’t harming, you’re not actually helping the situation either. Again with the IPhones, even if you do not buy one and are not harming the situation, you aren’t doing any good for the situation either.

  25. Who typically derives economic benefits, access to important resources, control of strategic military territory and other forms of power? In other words, what might we put in the _____ in the above diagram?

    It is common knowledge that the West is typically better off than those in other countries, such as parts of Africa and South America, as well as southern Asia. However, in recent times, other countries have began to steadily gain power, the most prominent of these countries nicknamed the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). All of these countries, especially China and Russia, are making huge technological and military advancements which could easily rival those of the western countries’. Because of this, these countries are becoming richer and more powerful while places such as the United States are sinking deeper into debt and losing power and influence.
    Also, even in the “powerful” West, there are certain groups of people that benefit more than others. For example, a white (over other races) heterosexual (over homosexual) cisgender (over transgender/non-binary) male (over female) would have an advantage over anyone with the variations listed above (i.e. a Hispanic woman).
    However, despite the oppression that many people face in these countries and that other countries are growing stronger to rival them, I think “the West” would be the best phrase to put in the blank.

  26. (Question 3):

    I believe that even though we may not find direct injustice in our personal efforts to those from whom we are benefiting, we are still responsible ins some way for their oppression. When one examines the economy, and all functions of the world, one will notice how everything fuels the next. Therefore, if we are pulling on a string it must be moving at the other end as well. So if we are constantly using materials, substances, equipment, and more, created through the oppression of others, then we can only become the causers of that oppression. It is of our choices and decisions that we shape ourselves and the world and it is of our choices and decisions to be aware of ourselves, and our effects. A quote from the book If I Stay says “Sometimes you make choices in life, and sometimes choices make you.” This shows the conscious and unconscious (haha, funny pun if you’ve read the book) reality of how we as individuals truly have the power to choose, and each individual therefore has the power to shape something/someone else, whether concsiously or not.

  27. I don’t think it’s possible to benefit from the oppression of others, even if you are not aware of it. Here’s the way that I see it. When you buy a product, say an iPhone, you are theoretically supporting the product owners and allowing them to continue doing what they are doing. By giving them you’re money, you are supporting them, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know, in the end you are still responsible. Being responsible doesn’t have to mean that you have to be aware of it. It means that you are a major cause to something and you are able to be credited to it, and if anyone is to be credited, the consumers are a big part of it.
    If we don’t want to let these kinds of things happen, then the only logical solution is to stop supporting them. But even then, I can guarantee that even after this blog post, or if you just tell someone about the consequences people are still going to buy future versions of the iPhone or whatever product that requires the oppression of others, and there isn’t much we can do about it. A lot of things in today’s society are linear, and this just happens to be one of those things.

    • You introduce many good points to this discussion, James. I do agree that the only logical solution is to stop supporting these “bad things”. However, the society that we currently live in has been accustomed to this world of heavy marketing and consumer engagement lately, and I believe that at this point, it is very difficult to change people’s views on this situation. Consumers will always be looking at the final product… they probably don’t care what the company did to create the product, but to them, the product is available and ready to use. Another example that I can apply my life into is musical theatre. Most people will most likely not care about all the rehearsals and tutorials that we cast members had to attend, and they probably don’t care that we spent hours and hours rehearsing and cleaning every scene and number. However, at the end of the day, they get to sit and watch a spectacular musical that we have put together. Who knows, maybe if we had slaves working as our tech crew they would still watch… what do you think?

    • I would have to agree with Waleed here, James. I agree than many people just think about the end project now a days and don’t really think about others that are suffering, however, I don’t think it is completely fair to single out iPhone users. If we really think about it and check all the tags of our clothes … i bet you not one person doesn’t have at least one thing that is “made in China”. You think those people are not being slaved? Or treated unfairly? We can’t single out certain users or consumers because we all own something that “supports” the oppression of others and it is not something that should be faulted in human beings. What are we going to do? Walk around naked with no form of technology or communication? Unless you are willing to do that faulting people for what they buy and use is completely unfair because the keyboards we are currently using to write this comment is probably made by someone who is being forced into it.

  28. I find the question of being able to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for that oppression interesting. Is it possible to be part of something and not be responsible for its consequences? No. Every ripple you make in a system of oppression keeps going until it hits the victims. Every phone you buy with precious metals mined by the oppressed means more metal must be mined. Every person contributing to a system of oppression is another brick on a wall that gets more and more indestructible. It doesn’t matter if you are aware of the impact you have. As the stereotypical ostrich with its head in the sand will tell you, if you can’t see it, it’s still there, and it won’t go away. Benefiting from oppressed peoples still has an effect whether you know of it or not, and you are responsible for it when it happens. Ignorance can be bliss for the ignorant, but not those who they’re actions impact.

  29. I have to agree with James in this situation. Although you might not know about where the iPhone came from, that shouldn’t exclude you from supporting major corporations from doing what they’ve been doing for many years. Information like this isn’t being hidden from the public, so nothing should be preventing people from knowing what major corporations like Apple are doing to gather the necessary resources.
    However, I do believe that we can change our ways so that both sides are being benefitted. For example, if corporations mine the ground of a specific country to obtain a certain metal, then I believe we could better support those who are being oppressed. Corporations could supply these countries with materials that they might need more such as care packages for their people. It seems to me that if both sides are benefitted equally, the situation would not be as negative.

  30. I believe it is impossible to benefit from the oppression of others without being responsible. Take the people who are near slaves who assemble your cell phone, they are oppressed immensely, they will live and die, most likely, in this factory. You are responsible by purchasing the phones that they assemble. If no one on earth bought another Apple product, those factories would be shut down. In our current world, nearly everyone is living off the benefits that come from others oppression, and they are responsible.

  31. I like to think I can play Flappy Bird on my phone without feeling responsible for the attempted suicides of many, many workers that spent hours working at the companies that created my device. However, after I became aware of this situation, I believe that I, along with many others, am responsible for this oppression of others. I am the one buying the phone and I am a part of the population that is craving the devices that these oppressed workers are creating. By wanting this technology, I am encouraging companies to keep on doing what they are doing. And then I also think, do we truly need such technology? Would it be possible to not need iPhones or related technology if it meant that others did not need to be oppressed and treated cruelly to make them? I don’t believe so. Technology has become such an important part of our society and I believe that workers need to create them, no matter how cruelly they are treated. And so while my answer may seem confusing now, what I’m trying to say is that yes, I am responsible for this oppression. However, it’s not fair to accuse me as I did not choose to be born into a home that is able to afford such technology.

  32. After reading through literally 40 comments about oppression and being responsible (all of them were really valid points although I kind of skimmed some of them) I really want to tackle the 2nd question because it’s only been answered like 4-5 times; I don’t feel like I could really add to the first question after all that discussing…
    Anyways, I think that what goes in the ______ would be the rich. The financially stable. Somewhere up there I think I saw someone say something about money being power or something; I personally really agree with this statement.
    Also somewhere up there, I saw people (Aidan and Jackson H??) say “white” or “America” as potential answers to the ____. I think that even if people are white, if they are not financially stable (homeless, unoccupied, etc.) they don’t get a share in the economic benefits. I saw an article somewhere that people who are disabled/unemployed and have to live off SSI or welfare even though they are very capable are still mostly homeless (I can’t find the article to save myself, sorry). If all of America really benefited from all the things up there, I don’t think homelessness or poverty problems would have existed. The rich are the ones who eventually affect and almost manipulate the poor or not-as-wealthy through media or ads or whatever. I think it’s a more valid statement to say that “rich people” would go in the blank.

  33. Considering my comment is quite late compared to others, I decided to talk about an aspect of the informal empire that interests me. An aspect of the informal empire that interests me is the British empire, but to be more specific the British connection with other countries. The British connection interests me simply because of the connection they had with China, in regards to the British imperial trade and the Opium Wars.
    As I figured out, in the first Opium War Britain and China fought each other because of their different perspectives of diplomatic relations, trade, and the rule of justice for foreign nationals. As a result, the British won. Even though, the second Opium War was fought over the same things as the first Opium War, the Chinese were fighting the British and the Second French Empire. The second Opium War was won by the British and the French, leaving China defeated.

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